Friday, April 15, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: April 8-14

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) ****
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, Menno Meyjes
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, Julian Glover, Michael Byrne, John Rhys-Davies, Kevork Malikyan, River Pheonix

We’ve gotten to the point where I am no longer introducing my boys to my own childhood movie favorites. They’ve made them their own. My boys are Indiana Jones crazy. I think Indy is their favorite movie hero, although the Ghostbusters are a close second. Gone are the days when I say to the boys, “I’ve got something I want you to see.” Now it’s, “Dad? Can we watch this tonight?” And if I don’t comply, nothing else will satisfy them in the same way.

The interesting thing is that it seems all their favorites are from my childhood. I don’t believe this was the case when I was a child. However, as an adult, I do seem to like my dad’s westerns with an enthusiasm that’s different than the joy I get from any other movies. But, my favorites as a kid were “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “The Dark Crystal”, “Superman”, “Back to the Future”, “Gremlins”. Along with Indy and Ghostbusters, my boys love “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, and “E.T.”. Is it because I guided them that way? Or is there something about the adventure movies of thirty years ago that is just inherently more appealing than today’s adventure films?

To be totally honest, my youngest has the same passion for “Cars” that I had and they share for the movies mentioned above. But, considering the amount of new movies they’re exposed to by having a cineaste for a father, you’d think they’d become obsessed about modern movies as much as older ones. It’s a mystery.

Shall We Dance? (1996) ***½
Director/Writer: Masayuki Suo
Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe, Yu Tokui, Miromasa Taguchi, Reiko Kusamura, Hideko Hara

I love this quiet little charmer of a movie. I’m talking about the original Japanese version of “Shall We Dance?”, not the Richard Gere/Jennifer Lopez remake—still unseen by me. I first saw it at the Roger Ebert Film Festival almost ten years ago. It resembles a great many Japanese films that study the uniqueness of the Japanese people by juxtaposing an unusual life choice against the ordinary, structured lives of Japanese culture. These movies are happy without being overly exuberant in that Hollywood tradition where life is fun all the time, and the characters have to keep up with it all. Japan’s happiness seems to be a found thing, not something thrust upon them.

Of course, with the recent tragedy in Japan, their people are much upon the minds of the world at the moment. I wonder about the impact the destruction to their country will have on their film community. From what I can tell by the lack of articles I’ve seen written about their vibrant film culture, I would guess the still tumultuous situation there is not near where most Japanese film companies are based. Even so, they’ve always made movies that dramatically reflected their society. It is very likely their tragedy will soon be reflected in the subject matter of the films they make. Godzilla was born out of a reaction to the nuclear devastation brought upon them by our bombs in World War II. I wonder what monsters will rise from their current nuclear crisis. I hope it won’t stop them from making quiet, life affirming movies like “Shall We Dance?”, however.

The Wild Bunch (1969) ****
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Writers: Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah, Roy N. Snicker
Starring: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sánchez, Emilio Fernández

I read an article the other day that supposedly listed the 50 greatest westerns of all time.  The compiler of this list was not so shortsighted as to not include Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece in the list, but the fact that it wasn’t in the top ten was questionable, especially with “Heaven’s Gate”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, and “Dead Man” listed ahead of it.. Those first two are good westerns, but better than “The Wild Bunch”? Really?! And “Dead Man”? “Dead Man”? Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man”? I’m not gonna hate you for liking Jarmusch’s cerebral, tangential take on the most American of genre’s, but better than “The Wild Bunch”? C’mon!

William Holden’s fading cowboy/outlaw was very much a metaphor for the Hollywood he came up in. Holden may have been the last of the leading men cast in that classic mold. That square-jawed, matter of fact demeanor went the same way as the classic cowboy at the very same time. “The Wild Bunch” was it’s last dying breath. It would soon be replaced by the rebellious Hollywood new wave, whose looks weren’t much better than those of the self-appointed Mexican law or the posse running down the wild bunch in this film. Like the posse, this new Hollywood was lead by sure hands like Coppola, Scorsese, and Spielberg, who understood the old Hollywood, but they were also essentially responsible for delivering its deathblow.

Read the controversial best western list here. (Neither version of “3:10 to Yuma” is on it anywhere. I mean, Really!)

Shadowboxer (2005) *½
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: William Lipz
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Helen Mirren, Vanessa Ferlito, Macy Gray, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mo’Nique, Stephen Dorff 

Since everyone seems to be Helen Mirren crazy these days, I thought it was finally time to sit down with a copy of her infamous movie “Shadowboxer”, which a friend gave to me a couple years ago because he couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. In it, Mirren and Cuba “Show Me the Money” Gooding Jr. play hitmen and lovers who grow weary of their business when they’re hired by a scoundrel to kill his wife and unborn child. Instead, they take the woman and child in as part of their very odd family.

Directed by Lee Daniels, who brought us the wonderful “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, “Shadowboxer” is the most earnest portrayal of the most absurd material I’ve ever seen. The relationship between Mirren and Gooding is odd, to say the least. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to put the May-December coupling in the context of contract killing and a demented character like that portrayed by Dorff puts the whole movie off kilter from frame one. It’s interesting. I’ll give it that. Too bad it’s also just plain bad.


Alan Bacchus said...

That western list was silly. It was a British article which says it all. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is good but come on. Winchester 73. Huh?

Andrew D. Wells said...

Yeah. I was going to mention it was British if someone commented, but you beat me to it Alan. It seems like their primary goal with that list was to produce top ten list that no one had ever seen before. I do know several people who'd get behind the placement of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, though.