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.
I saw You’ve Got Mail in a spanking-new multiplex located in a spanking-new downtown development, a place with an atrium and coffeeshop and Tiffany’s and J. Peterman. It’s the kind of gleaming, upscale mall that drove out (or will drive out) all the little shops and longtime dives that used to define the downtown of a city. It doesn’t really matter what city I’m talking about, because the downtown of my city could now be the downtown of AnyCity, blessed as it is with Planet Hollywood and Old Navy and a Starbucks on every corner.
The new development also has a Barnes & Noble at ground level. Well, gee, how ironic. You’ve Got Mail is about the owner of Barnes & Noble – er, “Fox Books” – opening a new megastore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is untroubled by the fact that his new store will drive the little booksellers out of business, including The Shop Around the Corner, a funky children’s book nook. It’s owned by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), who declares war on Fox and his heartless methods.
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films originally published 20 years ago by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for many years.
There are moments in Saving Private Ryanwhen the warfare becomes so intense and all-consuming that the very air seems filled with battle. Shrapnel hangs there, every shard in razor-sharp focus, as if molecules of the film itself had been startled out of the emulsion. “Din of battle” ceases to be a cliché and becomes an implacable, immediate truth, until the senses, along with reason, give up attempting to process the assault of information and sensation and a lulling roar of water fills our ears. No mainstream American film has ever painted a more horrific or documentarily persuasive picture of modern combat. And no Hollywood film within recent memory has achieved such richness and originality of texture, such a compelling amalgam of passionate human drama and awesome technique.
The opening sequence of Sully is a nightmare: a damaged airplane crashes in New York City. The dreamer wakes and sits up in bed, panting in the dark. He turns his head slightly, and his eyes are softly illuminated by a little band of light. This is an old-movie technique that goes back to the silent days; it’s as simple as it is effective.
The old-fashioned touch indicates the preferred method of director Clint Eastwood, who has crafted an admirably trim, plain film out of a very square subject. Because Sully chronicles the 2009 Hudson River landing executed by US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (played by a white-haired Tom Hanks), the film requires one big sequence of digital spectacle: the six minutes of flying that took Sullenberger’s passenger jet from LaGuardia Airport to the surface of the Hudson on a freezing January day. (Two minutes into the flight, the plane’s engines were disabled by contact with a flock of geese.) But the majority of the movie is utterly unadorned—mostly shots of people walking and talking in nondescript hotels and generic conference rooms.
The farther he moves away from temples of doom, altered suburbs, and shooting stars, the easier it is to somehow underestimate Steven Spielberg. (Yes, yes, Crystal Skull, I know.) Even at his most earthbound, though, the filmmaker’s basic chops still reside somewhere in the realm of the freakily supernatural. When he’s cooking, there’s nobody else who can do quite what he does.
Bridge of Spies, Spielberg’s first film since 2012’s Lincoln, is an exceptional job of work—a deliberately old-fashioned hybrid of courtroom drama and Cold War skullduggery that’s so expertly put together that you may not realize the beauty of its construction until after the fact.
Bridge of Spies feels like two movies laid end-to-end, but both are so deftly handled that the divide hardly matters. The movie’s two faces also give director Steven Spielberg a chance to explore his dual interests: using history to comment on the present day, and executing old-school suspense.
The first section is the true saga of a New York lawyer, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), who was plucked from his profitable private practice to defend a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in the late 1950s. Abel is obviously guilty of espionage—but not, as Donovan carefully points out, of treason—but what pricks Spielberg’s interest is the way Donovan is ostracized for performing a constitutional task.
Blue Jasmine (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and clearly she is a wonder in this film. Woody Allen reworks A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Blanche DuBois as a woman who remade herself into a Park Avenue socialite and is now adrift after her husband (Alec Baldwin) turned out to be a Madoff-like crook. Left with nothing but expensive tastes, an utterly self-absorbed personality, alcohol and pill abuse, and a nervous breakdown from which she has not completely recovered, she takes refuge with her working class sister (Sally Hawkins, also nominated this year) and her contractor boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) without a shred of appreciation.
Woody is often sharp with character study and Jasmine is something else, but his portrait of San Francisco working class folk is less convincing and carried only by the strength of a typically excellent cast (it also co-stars Louis C. K., Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg) and an honesty and commitment that the socially poised rich of the film lack. But Blanchett is riveting as the unraveling, self-pitying socialite on the skids, drinking and popping Xanax until it lubricates her slide into denial.
Blu-ray and DVD both feature a 25-minute press conference with actor Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay and a shorter promotional “Notes from the Red Carpet” featurette. No surprise, Allen makes no appearance in any of the supplements. The Blu-ray also features a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Another Oscar nominee, Captain Phillips (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks (who was overlooked this year) as the captain of a cargo ship boarded by Somali pirates, arrives on disc and digital. The film picked up six nominations, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role for Barkhad Abdi, a Somali non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a pirate in a desperate situation. No review copy was made available before deadline so no notes on the extras.
The Prey (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), a French crime thriller that goes for rough-and-tumble grit over slick Luc Besson spectacle, is a clever idea with a lazy script more concerned with creating fights, chase scenes, and escapes from police dragnets than in constructing anything resembling intelligent police work. Albert Dupontel has an appropriately scuffed-up quality as Franck, a hard-luck bank robber serving out the last months of a sentence for a success robbery, until he has to escape when he learns that his recently released religious-fanatic cellmate (Stéphane Debac) is actually a serial killer heading for his wife and child. Alice Taglioni is the tough-as-nails detective assigned to track him down as new evidence (planted by the real killer) implicates Franck in a string of unsolved murders.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds—it’s basically The Fugitive with a creepy psycho in place of the one-armed man and the life of a kidnapped child at stake—and Eric Valette delivers on the action if not on the intelligence of the cops (who would forget to stake out the suspect’s own home after he escapes prison?). Franck takes a beating beyond human endurance through it all, but as long as the momentum keeps up, and you can almost overlook the rampant clichés and the script’s glaring missteps. Almost. No surprise, it’s already been picked up for an American remake.
Oh Saving Mr. Banks, I’ll be honest — you had me at “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”
Critical standards tend to melt when put in proximity of that joyful song from Mary Poppins, which turns up about halfway through this new behind-the-scenes Disney production.
This amiable, somewhat whitewashed true story describes the way the already-kinglike Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) finally closed the deal with the author of Mary Poppins, the sourpuss British writer P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). For 20 years — no kidding — Travers resisted Disney’s offers to adapt her beloved literary character for a movie.
Saving Mr. Banks begins in 1961, with Travers journeying to Hollywood, still having not signed away the rights to her story.
Tom Hanks is no superhero. Therefore this most human of movie stars is just right for the title role in Captain Phillips, a movie that consistently rejects the idea of an indestructible superman in control.
The film is drawn from the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship, which was seized by Somali pirates while sailing around the Horn of Africa. Rich Phillips, the captain, was taken hostage when the pirates escaped in a lifeboat; except for a brief prologue with Phillips at home, the film basically covers the pirate drama.
In most ways, Captain Phillips is a tight-wound suspense picture, but it rejects easy hero-vs.-villain button-pushing. Some of that comes from the documentary-like style of director Paul Greengrass, whose main gift is to plunk you into the middle of a crisis as though it’s actually happening at that moment. Greengrass directed United 93 and the latter two “Bourne” spy movies, and you will recognize his jittery style (the guy is allergic to tripods).