The most authentic thing in The Perfect Storm is the fishing. The movie’s strong on process: the fixing of bait, the hauling up of lines, the stowing of gutted swordfish in ice. The detail in these sequences is briny and gunky, like the matted beards of the fishermen; it has a natural cinematic appeal, because movies excel at showing how things work.
How strange that two of the movies I’ve liked best and been most surprised by at Cannes 2000 should turn out to be mutant forms of the musical. The Coens’ song-filled O Brother, Where Art Thou? taps into the power of mythic storytelling, the kind of exhilarating power that drives journeys from Homer’s Odyssey to Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’sTravels — both sources for O Brother’s down-and-dirty musical drift through an economically depressed America teetering on a future we’ve come, for better and worse, to live in.
The first weekend of the 53rd Cannes Film Festival couldn’t have dawned more auspiciously. The Coen brothers are back with their first movie of the millennium and it’s a doozy. Taking their title from a maudlin catchphrase of the Great Depression—and from the mock-allegory with which Preston Sturges’s 1942 classic Sullivan’s Travels began—they’ve come up (again) with a complete original: a hilarious lowbrow comedy that only highbrows could have made, filled with an exultant sense of how big and startling and beautiful the pleasures of movies can be.
[Originally written for Seattle Weekly, January 6, 1999]
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View
presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors
for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for
Terrence Malick’s breathlessly anticipated return to the director’s chair The Thin Red Line rewrites the World War II platoon genre much the same way his directorial debut, Badlands, drove the ‘outlaw couple road film’ onto rarely explored backroads of the American unconscious. As the second ambitious war epic to emerge in the last year it’s bound to comparisons with Steven Spielberg’s much-lauded Saving Private Ryan, which plunged audiences into the overwhelming carnage of D-Day before settling into a platoon film narrative.
for Mr. Showbiz, December 25, 1998]
Set the wayback
machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago,
written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have
not been available for years.
Few films have aroused higher expectations than The Thin Red Line, the first movie written and directed by Terrence Malick since he unveiled Days of Heaven twenty years ago. Days of Heaven contained some of the most rapturous and mysterious images ever to shimmer on-screen. What people have tended to forget is that it also featured characters who hovered between the inchoate and the opaque, and a narrative in which cause and effect were sometimes elusive even within the minimal plot. Those virtues and liabilities are both on abundant display in Malick’s latest.
[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, August 7, 1998]
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.
After years of mishandling by Hollywood, crime novelist Elmore Leonard has been on a roll. Get Shorty, Barry Sonnenfeld’s larky look behind the scenes of Tinseltown itself, reaffirmed the second coming of John Travolta and also, by the novelist’s own testimony, made Leonard aware that his books are funny. (He writes them straight, which is how his characters live them.) Quentin Tarantino turned Rum Punch into JackieBrown and enhanced both Tarantino and Leonard in the process. Now comes Out of Sight—for sheer snap, verve, and professionalism, arguably the best of the bunch.
Start reading about the Allied military unit charged with finding and securing the stolen artworks of World War II, and you will happily disappear into fascinating stories of heroism in the face of Nazi treachery. The 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa stirringly recounts part of the saga, and is a good starting point for further inquiry. George Clooney’s movie, inspired by the unit, is a sincere if unwieldy plea for art as a vital human resource, but The Monuments Men can’t quite do justice to the tale.
Clooney first appears as Danny Ocean with professorial beard: Frank Stokes, a museum curator with FDR’s approval to assemble a crack team of art experts for active duty. As a filmmaker (he co-wrote with frequent partner Grant Heslov), Clooney knows he can’t entirely escape the air of the Ocean’s Eleven pictures, so he doesn’t try; the all-star assembly this time returns Matt Damon to the ranks, with new enlistees Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin (the Oscar winner for The Artist), Bob Balaban, and John Goodman.
At first glance, the title Gravity sounds like a useful, if generic, handle for a suspense movie about astronauts who become stranded in orbit when disaster strikes. If you see this movie — and you should see this astonishing movie — you’ll understand that “gravity” suggests an idea that goes beyond the subject of space travel.
The film begins during a routine spacewalk, as we meet a veteran astronaut, Matt (George Clooney), and a medical expert, Ryan (Sandra Bullock). She’s on her first mission, a newbie who needs his wisecracking reassurance.
This dreamy opening (you might want to sit in the back rows if you’re prone to motion sickness) is invaded by news of dangerously fast-moving debris in orbit, and the film kicks into an eye-filling suspense picture for the remainder of its incredibly tense running time.
It’s a survival story, like many set at sea or in the desert. The difference is there’s no solid ground, or even a horizon: just the stars hanging in space and the Earth — in oddly close proximity — below.
Meet John Doe: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (VCI)
Frank Capra’s last feature before leaving Hollywood to contribute his filmmaking talents to the war effort is his most populist piece of social commentary, a cynical satire of a publicity stunt that turns into a popular political movement.
Barbara Stanwyck is equal parts street-smart spunk and ferocious ambition as Ann Mitchell, a newspaper columnist swept out with the rest of the staff when a new owner takes over and leaves a kiss-off piece that starts a ruckus, drives sales and puts her in a prime position to negotiate a new contract, providing she keeps delivering her voice-of-the-people. Gary Cooper is at his laconic, everyman best as former minor league pitcher Long John Willoughby, now a homeless, unemployed drifter hired to play the role of Ann’s fictional John Doe, the voice of the people whose “letters” she writes for the paper. He becomes the public voice, his lazy delivery, lanky body language and homespun spirit giving her words an authenticity that raises the depressed spirits of struggling Americans and sparks a spontaneous grass roots movement.