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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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Fly Far, by Bob Connally

24 Nov

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn) is desperate to get through her senior year of high school as it begins in the fall of 2002. She wants nothing more than to escape the boredom of being a teenager in Sacramento and to fly away to college in New York. Maybe that’s why she insists that people (including her own mother) call her “Lady Bird.” Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (an actress long favored by Noah Baumbach), Lady Bird is as much if not more an exploration of the complicated dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship as it is a coming-of-age tale. It was hardly surprising to learn that Gerwig’s original title for the film was Mothers and Daughters.

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You Must Remember This, by Reed Lackey

23 Nov

Stories about death, deferred dreams, broken families and old wounds don’t immediately resonate as fodder for children’s films. But Pixar’s latest entry, Coco, attempts to tackle these subjects and more. Stunningly, they not only manage to craft an accessible and entertaining fable, but they also express profound observations about legacy, familial heritage and the power of art to unite and to heal.

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Empty Passion, by Darrell Tuffs

10 Nov

What’s the one thing that could make or a break a bleak romantic drama focused on the unstoppable love of two despairing individuals? The answer… chemistry. Unfortunately for Gabe Kliger’s European art/indie feature Porto (2017), it had none.

It’s not that Porto is a bad film necessarily, indeed, I enjoy parts of its filmmaking very much. An inventive and considerate camera does its best to dissect the strangely incoherent and dreamscape world of the film. I even caught sight of a few early Truffaut/Godard style camera moves, shots that seemed to reminisce the film’s own appreciation for new wave works such as Jules and Jim (1962) or A Woman Is a Woman (1961). Technically, the film stands on its own, with just enough cinematic beauty and creativity to run its course. The problem is this… emotionally, Porto seemed to think I was way more invested in its character’s and narrative than I actually was.

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A Time to Laugh, by Reed Lackey

2 Nov


Superhero movies are supposed to be filled with action, suspense, and occasionally gravitas. Very few of them, if any, have ever been focused primarily on laughs. Sure, the occasional witty catch phrase or clever retort has always been a functional element of superhero stories (I’m looking at you Spidey). But rarely, if ever, has a legitimized superhero film attempted to be a straight-forward comedy.

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Inhuman, by Bob Connally

8 Oct

Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner has become one of the most debated films ever made. Film buffs debate which cut of the film is best and they debate whether or not Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a human or a replicant. Where viewers come down on the Deckard question can depend in large part on which version of the movie they prefer. Even the director and star have disagreed about it for decades with Scott insisting, “He is definitely a replicant,” while Ford played the role believing his character to be human. 35 years later and 10 years after the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Ford is back as Deckard while the question still looms.

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Two-Toned, by Bob Connally

27 Sep

One of the more difficult things to pull off in a film is a successful shift in tone. It’s even more difficult when a filmmaker shifts back and forth between tones throughout a movie. Altered Spirits attempts to do this several times over the span of 90 minutes but unfortunately it just leaves the viewer repeatedly asking, “What does this movie want to be?”

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A Big Hit, by Bob Connally

24 Sep

Two of the more popular comedy subgenres of the past couple of decades have been mockumentaries and dark comedies about hitmen. With Killing Gunther (now available on demand and coming to theaters on October 20), writer and first-time director Taran Killam (Saturday Night Live) is combining the two with fantastic results. It’s a movie that wouldn’t work nearly as well in the hands of many filmmakers who might have concocted a similar premise. However, Killam displays a great understanding of tone and pacing throughout and perhaps most importantly of all, knows how to carry the idea all the way through to the end. As a result, an idea that sounds like it would work better as a short than a feature makes for a very funny 93 minute film.

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Mundane Obsession, by Bob Connally

28 Aug

Like its title character, Ingrid Goes West is a movie that will be dismissed and rejected by many. What many will understandably find difficult is that it defies easy categorization. Not content with simply being a dark comedy about a mentally and emotionally troubled young woman named Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), it’s a film that dares to turn its cell phone camera back at us and we may not like what we see. From early on it feels reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy in that we in the audience may recognize parts of Rupert Pupkin or Ingrid Thorburn in people we know or maybe, to our discomfort, in ourselves.

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Hillbilly Heist, by Bob Connally

20 Aug

There is a lot to like about Steven Soderbergh’s self-proclaimed, “anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie.” The cast is terrific and manages to have fun with southern stereotypes without openly mocking southerners. The plot is cleverly constructed yet breezy in the right way and there’s an emotional weight to the story of the Logan family and their supposed “curse” that works well. But there is one fatal flaw that Logan Lucky cannot overcome. The film asks its audience to believe that Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) could orchestrate a heist worthy of Danny Ocean but it never earns that belief from us. While Jimmy may be a smarter guy than people realize, it remains too much of a leap to get from there to him being a criminal mastermind. It is unfortunate because as I said, there is a lot to like here.

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