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Joe Dante’s Inferno, by Bob Connally

20 Feb

Last summer in my look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, I expressed my unabashed love of Looney Tunes. Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 masterpiece featured essentially every Looney Tunes star in a cameo role and while there is a lot of wacky humor in the film it has the story and structure of a detective movie. In 1996, the Looney Tunes stars were given bigger roles in Space Jam, a film that holds a strange nostalgic power for many Millennials that escapes me. A few moments aside, the comedy is weak and it’s a visual nightmare. The moment Daffy Duck and Bill Murray share a frame is however a great contribution to American cinema. 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action is now largely forgotten, even by me and I saw it. Thirteen years before however, that film’s director, Joe Dante, unleashed a film that truly captured the off the wall spirit of Looney Tunes in a way that neither Space Jam nor Back in Action came close to doing. He did it, in of all things, a sequel to one of the biggest commercial hits of the 1980s.

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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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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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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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Master Weaver, by Bob Connally

22 Jan

Through 21 years and 8 features, Paul Thomas Anderson has been making his mark time and again as a singular filmmaker. Often celebrated for his shot compositions and the level of bravura he brings to each project, what often gets lost is his extraordinary ability to create unique characters with incredible dimension. While his casting choices are impeccable there’s a reason the greatest actors of our time are so eager to work with him. For one actor in particular, Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson’s latest film turns out to be (at least for now) an unexpected swansong. Few actors or actresses have had a better one.

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A Tragic Comedy, by Bob Connally

21 Jan

Like a great many of you I remember the saga of Tonya and Nancy well. From a young age I got very into the Olympics and as an 11-year old in early 1994 I looked forward to watching the U.S. hockey team, bobsledding, skiing, and most of all seeing if Dan Jansen could win the speed skating Gold which had long eluded him amidst personal tragedy. But in the weeks leading up to the Lillehammer Games there was only one story anyone was talking about. America’s figure skating sweetheart, Nancy Kerrigan, had been viciously attacked, clubbed in the knee after a practice. I’d wager virtually every American who was above the age of 8 in 1994 has that raw video footage of her sitting on the floor crying, “Why, why, why?” indelibly burned into his or her memory. Memory, though, is a funny thing. Beyond that I would say few of us remember many of the details of what happened next, other than learning of rival skater Tonya Harding’s connection to Kerrigan’s attacker, Kerrigan going on to a medal (Silver as it turned out) and yes, Tonya Harding crying over her shoelaces on the world’s biggest stage. It seems I don’t remember it that well after all. The people involved do though. Well, their own versions of it anyway.

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Classics Through the Cracks: Real Life, by Bob Connally

27 Nov

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 Bad Day at Black Rock, 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 the first entry I’m writing about one of my favorite movies ever made and one that makes me laugh no matter how many times I see it, Albert Brooks’ Real Life.

The 1999-2000 TV season introduced American audiences to two shows that would change television forever. While so called “reality television” was nothing new, shows like Fox’s Cops and MTV’s The Real World were outliers. Major networks would air re-runs of scripted dramas and sitcoms all summer long, with very little original programming running between the end of May and the beginning of September. But as one millennium gave way to another, ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (a game show but one that emphasized human drama more than something like Jeopardy!) and CBS’s Survivor broke through to become primetime smashes. This would prove to be anything but a fad with reality shows quickly becoming ubiquitous and remaining that way 18 years on. It would have only made sense for a comedian turned filmmaker to satirize the format around say, 2002. But why bother? Albert Brooks had already done it to perfection. In 1979.

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