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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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Too Little, Too Late, by Tyler Smith

12 Jul

Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pleasant enough diversion, with some clever sequences, but never really adds up to anything more than a placeholder within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps that’s okay, though. With the weight of everything that has been going on in the MCU, maybe a light, effects-heavy romp is just what the doctor ordered. Certainly, one of the interesting elements of this franchise is that we can have different tones from one film to another, with the Captain America films feeling notably different than the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for example. However, ten years in and we’ve been trained to understand that everything affects everything else and that no hero, regardless of how isolated he may seem, is ever truly alone. So while Ant-Man and the Wasp is often a very amusing film – sometimes downright funny – it’s hard to reconcile it with the current tone of the larger franchise. And so the feel of the film is somewhat diminished and I found myself adopting a fatalistic mindset, wondering what the point of all this is, knowing what we do about the larger universe.

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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 Year with Hitchcock: Waltzes from Vienna, by Reed Lackey

18 Jun

Hitchcock called this the low point of his career. He later called Champagne his least favorite of his films, but maintained that this movie represented an odd sort of crossroads and not an entirely pleasant one. Rich and Strange had been a good film but a commercial failure. Number Seventeen had represented a sloppiness in both style and substance, as if crafted by a hopelessly amateur filmmaker. Then, came Waltzes from Vienna, a film so utterly removed both by narrative and genre from the remainder of Hitchcock’s work as to seem ridiculously anomalous.

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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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A Year with Hitchcock: Number Seventeen, by Reed Lackey

15 Jun

Hitchcock tackles another play, but this time, it’s a full-blown noir mystery thriller. Behind the scenes, the financial failure of Rich and Strange (aka East of Shanghai) had caused the production company to remove him from the project he really wanted to do and forced him to take on this one. As a result, his heart wasn’t in its creation and he later heavily derided it as one of his least favorable films (he called it a “disaster”).

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A Year with Hitchcock: Rich and Strange, by Reed Lackey

12 Jun

Hitchcock lightens things up this time with an entry that drifts away from the smaller, domestic dramas and from his adaptations of plays to present a far more comical story about the allure of wealth and opulence. The result is a rather pleasant farcical adventure that Hitchcock himself liked quite a bit, and which you are likely to enjoy as well.

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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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By The Numbers, by Reed Lackey

25 May

Star Wars as a franchise seems to have a complicated relationship with telling the beginnings of stories. The highly divisive and frequently maligned prequels to the original trilogy remain the low bar by which all other entries in the franchise are measured. It’s even riskier, then, for the franchise to begin to tell even more “stories-before-the-stories” with their recent entry Rogue One, and the latest installment: Solo.

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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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