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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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Redeeming Shawshank, by Reed Lackey

12 Feb

I can still remember the first time I saw it. I was 16 and had the evening to myself at home. I worked at a local video store from which I could bring home free movies every night so long as I returned them the next day. That night the film was The Shawshank Redemption. And it absolutely blew me away.

Is there anybody left over the age of 25 who hasn’t seen that movie? Probably not. It’s rated number 1 on the favorite movies of all time on IMDB. I’m going to assume you’ve seen it. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it and come back… We’ll wait…

Welcome back. So what’d you think? Greatest movie ever? Cheesy and overrated? Boring and overlong? Powerfully moving and affecting? Most satisfying ending in cinema history? Ridiculous popular claptrap?

What’s been interesting to examine regarding that film’s place in cinema history is how widely the pendulum has swung regarding its favor. In 1994 when it was originally released, it was largely ignored. A 2 ½ hour prison drama with a weird title starring two people who weren’t quite on the A-list just yet, especially in the same year that cinematic behemoths Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump were also released? Most people took a hard pass on it. It’s worth mentioning that it was nominated for 7 Oscars, but also worth mentioning that it didn’t win any of them.

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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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The Fear of God: mother!

16 Jan

In this episode, Reed and Nathan discuss Darren Aronofsky’s controversial psychological horror film mother!.

A Year with Hitchcock: The Pleasure Garden, by Reed Lackey

11 Jan

Hitchcock began his career in films designing title cards for the London branch of Paramount Pictures. He eventually worked his way up to assistant director and ultimately, of course, to director. The very first directorial effort by Hitchcock was a film called Number 13, but a production cancellation midway through due to financial difficulties caused the film to remain incomplete and what little there was of it has been lost to time.

I half expected The Pleasure Garden, the earliest surviving directorial effort from Hitchcock, to be flat and uninteresting. On the contrary, I rather enjoyed it.

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A Year with Hitchcock, by Reed Lackey

5 Jan

The phrase is this “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What I think we mean when we use it (or its reverse that the whole is “lesser”) is a certain intangible quality that can’t quite be dissected or calculated. It reflects a sensibility that language is still struggling to define about why something “works” or doesn’t.

We consider this issue when discussing film constantly. Franchise installments are constantly being ranked in comparison with their sibling entries, which deepens and furthers the conversation on that particular franchise as a whole.

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