Over the years, the words “Directed by Jon De Bont” and “Starring Keanu Reeves” have not always been recipes for awesomeness (Reeves does get points for Point Break, of course), but I guess accidents can happen. Of all the films built on the Die Hard blueprint, Speed is pretty much the only one that didn’t suck even a little.
Beyond cleaning up at the Oscars, the true lasting impact of Gladiator is that it marks the beginning of the longstanding cinematic “bromance” between director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. It is also the high water mark for that creative team. They’ve done good work since but not on this level.
I think I’ve discovered at least one of the secrets of Pixar’s inexplicably consistent excellence. Many movies are so desperately eager to dazzle us visually, put their technical prowess on display, that they lose sight of anything resembling story. Pixar seems to wade into each project with supreme confidence in their ability to provide a feast for our eyeballs. This self-assuredness allows them to focus on details like story and character, things that turn a mere lightshow into an enchanting narrative and even help it transcend the boundary into art.
Comic book movies are all grow’d up and, boy, are they gloomy. Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his brilliant Batman Begins goes beyond its predecessor and gives us a rich, multi-layered story with one of the more original takes on the comic book villain I can remember. With the creative success of this movie, we can officially write off the Tim Burton Batmans as an unfortunate detour (and the Joel Schumacher films as a large pothole in that detour).
Just 29 when he made this, Kenneth Branagh fired a shot across the bow of no less a figure than Laurence Olivier, who had, forty-five years earlier, also directed and starred in his own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play. Olivier’s version, made in wartime, was intended as a patriotic rallying cry for a weary nation. Branagh’s grittier, more ambiguous version is no less accomplished, although it could stand to be slightly better paced.
Back when I was a kid, this movie used to play on the Saturday afternoon movie about every third week and, being a boy with a jones for all things aviation, I ate it up. Of course, back then I simply got off on the idea of turning a crashed airplane into a new smaller airplane. As I got older, I came to appreciate the movie for what it was: a deeply insightful drama about men under crisis, couched in the format of an action adventure.
When 1988 began, this guy Bruce Willis was a popular enough TV star, known for his years on Moonlighting, but his two ventures into film were a pair of alleged comedies that had a negligible impact at the box office. At the same time, action movies had been in a creative black hole, full of invulnerable superman battling hordes of commies and terrorists. So, when Die Hard appeared with an unproven star, there weren’t a lot of expectations for its success. It certainly wasn’t expected to reinvent the entire genre. Well, Merry Christmas in freakin’ July, Hollywood.
On Thanksgiving Night in 1976, the legendary rock group known simply as The Band said farewell to touring with a party at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland Ballroom. 5,000 turkey dinners were served. There was ballroom dancing and a poetry reading.
Who would have thought that the only thing that could bring down the great defenders of truth, justice and the American way would be that fiendish arch-nemesis known as the Trial Lawyer? Well, come to think about it, that’s really not news, is it?
I kid. I kid. Please don’t sue me.
The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s first feature for Pixar and Disney, was the sixth consecutive creative bulls-eye by that group since the release of Toy Story. Frankly, the team at Pixar is starting to make excellence seem almost boring. Who do these guys think they are, the New England Patriots?
Mix theoretical physics, rock’n’roll, neurosurgery, Orson Welles and Rastafarian aliens from another dimension and you get this goofily eccentric genre-bending science-fiction action comedy. This is definitely one of those “love-it-or-hate-it” movies that you recommend to friends with caution. After watching this, they will either thank you profusely or recommend you for civil commitment.
Tombstone was the first shot fired in a double-barreled blast of Wyatt Earp movies in 1993 and 1994. While Lawrence Kasdan and Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp was too long, plodding and ponderous, George Pan Cosmato’s entry in the O.K. Corral sweepstakes was violent and operatic, a noisy revenge tale told at a fever pitch. It was also the better movie, even if its fidelity to the facts of Earp’s life was less than letter perfect. Movie audiences have never been that picky about historical accuracy in their westerns. Young Guns did all right and it was hardly a scholarly work on the life of Billy the Kid.
The last time Kevin Costner got anywhere near John F. Kennedy’s presidency, namely Oliver Stone’s cinematic hallucination known as JFK, history took a beating like a narc in a biker bar. Thankfully, Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days doesn’t take anywhere near the number of liberties with the truth (how could it) and its historically questionable aspects are minor and forgivable as necessary dramatic licenses in the service of a tightly honed political thriller that also happens to be mostly true.