There were two things that really surprised me about the first Avengers movie. The first was how Jossy it all was. I’m a big fan of writer/director Joss Whedon, going back to his salad days with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is still my favorite TV show of all time. Whedon’s TV work was successful enough to stay on the air, but it was still never quite mainstream, so he was able to be more than a little idiosyncratic. I thought for sure that working on an enormous, superhero team-up movie for the world’s biggest entertainment corporation would sand off his more interesting instincts. Imagine my great surprise when his voice came through loud and clear in the first Avengers movie, which I think really led to it being the world’s biggest-grossing movie not made by James Cameron. It turns out Buffy (and its spinoff, Angel) were great training grounds to write a supernatural team coming together.
Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for these Disney nature documentaries and always have been. As a giant, multinational corporation, Disney does take some heat for being such a huge company that isn’t always benevolent. I must, however, commend them for starting the DisneyNature brand of films a few years ago. These movies don’t make the kind of money a beast like Age of Ultron is likely going to make for them (nor do they cost anywhere near what an effects-driven superhero film is going to require), but it’s great that these movies exist for families to see together. Disney also donates a percentage of the box office grosses to help conservation causes. We live in a time in which the United States Congress is actually seriously talking about giving over our National Parks and other protected lands to private companies to oversee, an idea that’s absolute madness and would be derided by Republicans past like Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater. That the company seems committed to being involved in worldwide conservation can only be a good thing.
Not all that long ago, a buddy of mine watched the original Rocky for the first time. One of the things he didn’t like about it, he said, were all the sports movie clichés. I had to explain to him that if sports movie clichés are a disease, then Rocky is Typhoid Mary. The incredible underdog facing ridiculous odds, the training montage, the film’s climax at some version of The Big Game, all of those tropes more or less began with Rocky Balboa in 1976.
Well, this has been a weird couple of weeks.
Just to recap: Sony Pictures was hacked and many embarrassing emails were leaked to the public. The FBI thinks North Korea is behind the cyber attack as retaliation for a Seth Rogen movie called The Interview. The hackers threaten 9/11-style terror attacks on movie theaters that would screen The Interview on Christmas Day. Sony cancels the release of the movie after major theater chains refuse to screen it. Much outrage ensues. Democrats and Republicans, who can’t agree on what year it is, both rush to condemn Sony’s decision to pull the movie. Even the President of the United States weighs in and scolds Sony during the final press conference of 2014. Meanwhile, and this is where it really gets odd, North Korea’s internet goes out; the internet for the entire country goes down for several hours. Is the United States involved? We’re not saying. Then, Sony decides to release The Interview at a bunch of indie cinemas throughout the country. Right now, about 300 theaters have booked the film to begin screenings on Christmas. Now, today, the movie is available on YouTube.
Any hipster will gladly tell you that Tim Burton’s best film is easily Ed Wood. Just because they’re hipsters doesn’t make them wrong — it is, by far, his best film. Burton’s biopic about the alleged worst movie director of all time is genuinely terrific and plays into Burton’s common theme of outsiders. Personally, I’m a big fan of biopics of not obvious subjects. I often think they’re far more interesting films that way. It’s obvious why somebody would make a movie about Jackie Robinson’s life or Abraham Lincoln’s life or Stephen Hawking’s life. It’s not so obvious why we should care about Edward D. Wood, Jr, who unleashed movies like Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space on the public.
First off, full disclosure: I’ve never seen Into the Woods performed on stage, so I don’t come into it with any preconceived ideas of how one should approach adapting Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 musical. I can only look at the movie on its own terms and not on what it could have been if they’d done it the way somebody’s high school drama department did it.
Last year, Warner Bros. released 42, a sturdy and workman-like biopic of baseball great Jackie Robinson. It’s a perfectly fine movie, handsomely crafted, but also kind of hollow. At the time I saw it, I thought it would be a great movie for middle school Social Studies classes. My 13-year-old nephew saw it at school and loved it. It covers the segregation prior to the Civil Rights era, but it does it in really broad and simplistic strokes. The film never really gives us any insight into the man Jackie Robinson was or what made him tick. He’s just presented as a stoic hero. He’s a bronze statue in his own movie.
*Please note that this article is an opinion-editorial.
While taking a film class in college, I got to see Singin’ in the Rain for the first time, and, ever since, I’ve been a huge Gene Kelly fan. On Broadway, they still talk about an actor being a triple threat, and Kelly most definitely was. He could act, sing, and dance, and he made it look both joyous and effortless. He had an innate athleticism and masculinity as a dancer that made him popular with both male and female audiences. He was also a choreographer and director. I recently stumbled across a clip of him on YouTube. It’s from a movie called It’s Always Fair Weather. In the clip, Kelly tap dances while wearing roller skates. I was pretty impressed, but I was also convinced that some clever editing was making it seem more complicated than it was. I figured there was no way he was actually tap dancing on rolling wheels; they had to be welded in place. Like most of the great Hollywood musicals, the sequence was filmed in wide, unedited shots. Soon, Kelly was tap dancing on roller skates and then skating around, all in the same take. It’s an amazing bit of style and athleticism to watch. I couldn’t skate across the room without seriously injuring myself. What Gene Kelly was doing (in one of his lesser-known pictures) was just amazing to me.
Reporting from 2014 AFI Fest presented by Audi
When I first moved to Los Angeles eight years ago, my roommate was a girl, so, as such, there were quite a few movies I watched that I would normally not have seen. One was The Devil Wear Prada, in which Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci put on a clinic about great acting elevating shoddy material. I saw The Devil Wears Prada many, many times. Another was a little opus called Step Up. Step Up is a dance movie, which means the dance sequences are lively and creatively staged, while the rest of the film that connects them together is pretty lousy. An actor named Channing Tatum got his big break in that movie, and it’s a pretty marginal performance; he more or less stands around and waits until it’s his turn to talk. There’s no emotional engagement other than that. He’s a blank slate, albeit a very pretty blank slate.
Lots of good movies have been made about unintelligent characters. This year is the 20th anniversary of Forrest Gump, and no matter how you might feel about that movie now, it’s still a largely beloved Oscar winner about a man with a low IQ. The great Peter Sellers’ last film was Being There, a film about a simple man who could only relate to the world through what he’d seen on television. Mike Judge’s brutal satire, Idiocracy, has been almost prophetic in its depiction of the dumbing down of American society. Good movies, intelligent movies about stupid people can and have been made.