Across the years, countless films that spotlight dysfunctional families have featured scenes in which mothers and fathers are screaming and yelling at each other and perhaps even resorting to violence. They are unaware that they are being overheard and observed by their children, or perhaps they do not even care. Meanwhile, the reaction shots of the young ones, which spotlight the hurt and sadness that they are feeling in the moment, serve as a textbook example of the adage that a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words.
One of the better films I’ve seen this summer is a comedy which centers on the intrigues of two sets of lovers. The setting is decidedly contemporary. The male characters wear suits and ties, and so on. But there is a twist here. The characters all speak in Elizabethan English, and the film in which they appear is MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, director-writer Joss Whedon’s updating of Shakespeare’s classic comedy.
A couple months ago, while still playing the film festival circuit, an extraordinary documentary-- one of the very best films of the year-- opened theatrically in the U.S. It now slowly is making its way into theaters. I saw it this past fall at the Toronto Film Festival and discussed it in detail. I want to cite it again because it is well-worth spotlighting as it becomes increasingly available to audiences.
These days, there seems to be an endless flow of contemporary action/sci-fi adventures featuring evil forces that are determined to destroy humankind. The latest of the lot is PACIFIC RIM, and it involves what happens when the world-- the entire world-- must unite to thwart some colossal, murderous monsters of the Godzilla variety.
HOOP DREAMS, which dates from 1994, is an extraordinary documentary which covers four years in the lives of its subjects, a pair of inner-city Chicago youngsters who yearn for stardom on the hardwood. Well, a new-to-DVD documentary, titled 56 UP, is the latest in a series of films which, in their totality, cover 49 years in the lives of their subjects. They are a group of British youngsters from various classes and backgrounds who first were filmed as seven years olds in 1964. Every seven years, the cameras have been turned back on and they have been revisited and filmed yet again. A bit of simple math tells us that 56 UP is the eighth installment in the series.
MAN OF STEEL, the just-released action film which brings to the fore the beloved superhero known as Superman, is yet another special effects-laden extravaganza spotlighting slam-bang good guy-bad guy encounters. If this is to your liking, you probably will relish MAN OF STEEL. But if you are looking for some narrative cohesion and intelligence amid all the mayhem, MAN OF STEEL surely will disappoint.
Most movies come and go. They open theatrically, earn their box office bucks and, these days, end up in DVD obscurity. Few are truly memorable. Few are, to quote Humphrey Bogart in THE MALTESE FALCON, “the stuff that dreams are made of.”
I recently offered commentary on THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, the Robert Redford film which spotlights various now-aging political activists of the late 1960s and 70s. To be sure, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is dramatically flawed, but at least it attempts to get at certain truths regarding the American counterculture of the era.