Release Date: 21 July 1989
Director: Jay Levey
Production Co: Orion Pictures
Country: United States
A recent article about this movie contains this quote:
All over America, whenever a young man turns 13, he sees this film, and it becomes his favorite film of all time. It’s kind of like a secular, comedic Bar Mitzvah. And the accumulation of young men who at the age of 13 who have seen this film over the last 25 years has given it a massive fan base and elevated it to a legendary stature.
I failed to see this movie when I was 13, or anytime since. Technically, I couldn’t have seen this movie when I was 13 because it was released when I was 15, but it’s the type of thing I would’ve liked when I was 13. Or maybe 9.
UHF has a general plot about daydreamer George (Al Yankovic) inheriting a local tv-station, and making it a hit with oddball programming. This is all just linking device for movie and commercial parodies disguised as George’s day dreams and tv shows. All of it feels pretty dated but you can imagine it was at least somewhat funny in the 1980s.
And this may be the most 80s film ever! Despite the decade being marked by selfishness and inequality, it has that 80s movie optimism where the ordinary folk rally together to beat evil rich guy. A virtual parade of 80s celebrity crosses the screen – SNL‘s Victoria Jackson as George’s love interest, Gedde Watanabe as a martial instructor as stereotypical as Long Duck Dong, Fran Drescher as the station’s nasally reporter, and Emo Phillips – EMO PHILLIPS – as a high school shop teacher making a gruesome television appearance. I can only assume Sam Kinnison, Joe Piscopo, and Spuds McKenzie were busy. The real heart of the film is a pre-Kramer Michael Richards as the station’s janitor who becomes a whacky tv star. You can tell he’s having a great time improv-ing his part.
I mock this film, but it’s sweet and does it’s best for the laughs. I just saw it at the wrong age.
Title: Silver Linings Playbook
Release Date: 25 December 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Production Co: Weinstein Company,
Country: United States
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
Not sure to make of this one. The basic story is that Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent some time in a mental institution after being diagnosed as bipolar following a vicious attack on the man having a fling with his wife. Pat moves in with his parents adopting a “silver linings” philosophy in hopes of getting himself in shape to win back his wife (and his failures to stick to his new ideal veer between the comic and terrifying). Along the way he meets a young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and agrees to join her in a dance performance in exchange for Tiffany delivering a letter to his wife. It doesn’t take much of a leap to realize that Pat and Tiffany will end up together by the end of the film (and along the way they spend a lot of time talking in the middle of streets without ever getting honked at).
I don’t think the depiction of mental illness in the film is very accurate and I’m sensitive to the problems that causes. On the other hand, the acting in this movie is strong as Cooper, Lawrence, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Anupam Kher all put in excellent performance and sell the interpersonal dynamics. Even Robert Deniro who I don’t usually like because he always plays Robert Deniro puts in a convincing performance as a man obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles with OCD and a gambling problem, but under that all really trying to make a connection with his son. So I give this a mixed review, as the story is largely hard-to-believe, but the acting and the relationships are terrific.
Title: Pitch Perfect
Release Date: 5 October 2012
Production Co:Brownstone Productions
Genre:Comedy | Musical
Recently, I’ve been seeing references to Anna Kendrick everywhere, as if the universe wishes for me to know of her existence. So I decided to watch this musical comedy which has a reputation as a cult classic. I went to a college with a big a cappella scene, but the fictional college in this film takes it to a new level, where vocal groups are the highly competitive center of campus life (and apparently members have incredible recall for song lyrics and instant harmonies). The plot leaves a lot of questions (“why if the Bellas routines are so stale & boring do they keep finishing in the top 3?” “does anyone realize that Beca’s plan to use mashups as the basis of their new performance is something already called a medley?”), but this isn’t a movie you watch for the plot. Instead you watch it for the funny dialogue, the showstopping musical numbers, and strong comic performances from Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt. It’s kind of Animal House with harmony, but with the heart of an 80s John Hughes film (with a very obvious shout-out to The Breakfast Club as a plot point). So, put me down as a fan of Kendrick and Pitch Perfect. I’m ready for the sequel.
Release Date: 2014
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Co: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films, Pathé, Plan B Entertainment
Country: United States
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
The story of the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting rights for black Americans is dramatized in this excellent biographical film. The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr. after he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) are invited to Selma, AL to help with their campaign to register black voters. In addition to the conflict with violent police and racist whites, the film captures the tensions between the SCLC and leaders of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), tensions within the SCLC leadership, tensions between King and President Lyndon Johnson, and tensions within King’s family. The brilliant acting in this film draws out how all these competing tensions affected the historic people and their motivations and desires. I was also impressed with the directing of the film, particularly in the unusual way the camera conversations among individuals. There has been criticism of this film for not being historically accurate, but while not being the documentary truth of the period of time it depicts, I think it compresses real historical truths for dramatic effect. For example, while Johnson may not have been has nakedly antagonistic to King’s plans in 1965, it is true that the President had conflicting goals and did not wish to move forward as swiftly as the Movement. I hope people will go and see this film which is both a work of art and an introduction to an important event in American history. And once you’ve seen Selma, check out the documentary Eyes on the Prize and the many excellent books about the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
Title: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage
Release Date: 1999
Director: David Clark, Al Giddings
Production Co: IMAX, Mandalay Media Arts, National Science Foundation
Genre: Documentary | Nature | IMAX
Rating: *** 1/2
Another great IMAX film experience at the Boston Museum of Science. The film immerses one in the lunar landscape of the Galapagos Islands with it’s many uniquely-evolved creatures and plants. Then it takes you deep beneath the sea to explore newly-discovered aquatic creatures. The star of the film is zoologist Carol Baldwin (and fellow William & Mary alum) who among other things takes a submersible into the deep ocean and sucks up specimens of sea life with a nifty vacuum tube. My 7-year-old son gave the movie a thumbs up as well.
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Production Co: Walt Disney Company
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Family | Musical
As of yesterday, I’ve ended my reign as the last middle class American parent of young children to have not see Frozen. My daughter and I watched it on DVD. Despite all the hype and attention to the movie, it wasn’t quite what I expected, which means I somehow wasn’t spoiled. It was a good mix of musical set pieces, humor, adventure, and a story of sisterly love. I liked Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer the best. Yep, I liked it. So, I guess it was worth the wait.
Release Date: 2 October 2011
Director: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Production Co: Florentine Films
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary | History
This Ken Burns documentary illustrates the United States’ experiment with banning alcoholic beverages. The story is told in three parts.
Part I documents the adverse effect alcohol consumption had on Americans, especially men, who drank away their pay while women and children suffered poverty and abuse. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union organized to successfully (albeit temporarily) shut down saloons, and inadvertently providing a political outlet for women that helped the suffrage movement. On the other hand, alcohol played an important social role, especially in immigrant communities. The dark side of the temperance movement is that it was made up of rural and small-town Protestants from the mid-west and south who were prejudice against the immigrant groups in the big cities. The strongest opponents to prohibition were German-American brewers, so it was no surprise that anti-German sentiment during WWI helped sway the national opinion towards Prohibition.
Part II shows America under Prohibition. Interestingly enough, many people (including politicians who voted for the amendment) expected beer and wine to be permitted under Prohibition. The Anti-Saloon League under Wayne Wheeler are able to influence the drafting of the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition by banning all beverages with more than one-half of one-percent alcohol. There were many loopholes such as people who stocked up before the ban or those who could get prescriptions for medicinal alcohol. While many in the heartland were pleased to abstain, places like New York City exploded with illegal importation and distilling of liquors. These illegal activities were soon consolidated under organized crime bosses whose territorial battles contributed to notorious violence.
Part III illustrates the growing awareness that the levels of hypocrisy and unintended consequences of Prohibition, ultimately leading to repeal.
An interesting aspect of this documentary is it shows how the Prohibition story accompanies the increased role of women in American public life. The temperance movement was led by women. Mabel Walker Willebrandt enforced the Volstead Act in her duties as U.S. Assistant Attorney General. Lois Long documented the glamour and sexual liberation of speakeasy nightlife in her articles for the The New Yorker. And Pauline Sabin lead the political movement for repeal as head of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform.
Like Ken Burn’s other works, this was an excellent and informative documentary, richly illustrated with period photographs and films and words read from primary documents by actors and narrators. I learned a lot from this film.