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.
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.
While watching MAN OF STEEL, the new Superman movie, I could not help but think of some of the other actors who have played the beloved superhero across the decades both on TV and in the movies. One of them was of course George Reeves, whom Baby Boomers will know as the actor cast as the title character and his alter-ego, Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, in THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, the iconic 1950s television series. These days, George Reeves-- who is not to be confused with Christopher Reeve-- is remembered not so much as a 1950s television star but as a tabloid tragedy. That is because, on June 16, 1959, Reeves, who was 45-years-old, was found shot to death in his Hollywood home.
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.
I have in my hands a DVD of FUN SIZE, a PG-13-rated comedy aimed at the younger demographic that is presented by Nickelodeon Movies, an offshoot of the Nickelodeon cable television network, which produces programming for a teen and pre-teen audience.
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.
Sometimes, novels that are American classics have been transformed into motion pictures that are American classics. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, and FIELD OF DREAMS (based on Ray Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe) are a few that come to mind. Some-- ALL THE KING’S MEN, for example-- have been the source for films that deserve all the acclaim they earn and remakes that are, in a word, execrable.
Once upon a time, back in the 1950s, there was a TV series titled I Led Three Lives. The “I” of the title was Herbert Philbrick, a Boston advertising executive who also worked undercover for the FBI and infiltrated the American Communist Party. This show came to mind while watching THE ICEMAN, a tough, fact-based new film that works both as a character study and a crime drama.