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Monday Movie: Quick Change, by David Bax

24 Apr

Two years before Quentin Tarantino unleashed Reservoir Dogs, there was a different American directorial debut that found more drama in the aftermath of a heist than in the robbery itself. Only instead of a postmodern pastiche of the history of crime movies, this one was a bizarre, acid-tongued and increasingly surreal comedy. Quick Change was co-directed by star Bill Murray (his only directorial credit to date) and Howard Franklin, who also adapted the screenplay from Jay Cronley’s novel.

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Monday Movie: The Desperate Hours, by David Bax

17 Apr

There has been no shortage of American films about the darkness hidden beneath the picturesque façade of our suburbs. From Blue Velvet to The ‘Burbs to American Beauty and beyond, we’ve been quick to paint these towns and neighborhoods as a weak glamour that barely hides the psychoses and dangers from which they pretend to offer an escape. What’s amazing, though, is how quickly we seemed to arrive at these conclusions. The suburbs as we know them are essentially a post-World War II creation and cinematic deconstructions of them began to appear almost immediately, in crime films like André de Toth’s Pitfall, in which a bitterly unhappy man returns at the end of every soulless work day to an idealized version of home and a family he increasingly can’t stomach and in comedies like Frank Tashlin’s The First Time, in which young newlyweds discover that starting a family is no walk in the park.

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Monday Movie: Dick, by David Bax

10 Apr

Andrew Fleming’s Dick, just like Bruce McCulloch’s Superstar, is a slightly too-weird-for-this-world comedy that came out amidst the glut of great movies in 1999. Both underperformed at the box office and both have since accumulated minor cult followings, though nothing on the level of what they deserve. In Dick’s case, that may be partially due to the inherent cultural sexism that leads us to undervalue art that appears to be aimed at young women. Ironically, that same tendency to underestimate girls is the source of much of the comedy of Dick.

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Monday Movie: Butterfly, by David Bax

3 Apr

For an American high school student (twenty years ago, at least), European history classes generally cover only the pre-1776 years. That means massively important, early twentieth century events like the Spanish Civil War are left out altogether. Luckily, we have the movies. Various works of cinema over the years have filled in the gaps left by my schooling but perhaps none has been so informative as José Luis Cuerda’s Butterfly. Though it doesn’t spend much time at all on the war itself, it manages to convey much about the country’s domestic, day-to-day politics that led to it. It also happens to be devastatingly emotional.

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Monday Movie: Nobody Knows, by David Bax

27 Mar

With After the Storm, yet another grand achievement from director Koreeda Hirokazu, currently in theaters, I thought it worth turning my attention back to Nobody Knows, the 2004 film that first made me aware of the director and one that has remained indelible.

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Monday Movie: The Ballad of Jack and Rose, by David Bax

20 Mar

After making a minor splash with 2002’s sensuous feminist triptych Personal Velocity, director Rebecca Miller has yet to register strongly on the film world’s radar again. That’s unfortunate because her follow-up, 2005’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose, remains an overlooked gem. Retaining the earthy tactility of the previous feature, this effort is simultaneously more intimately focused and more grandly ambitious, as visually rewarding as it is morally challenging.

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Monday Movie: Excalibur, by David Bax

13 Mar

It almost seems odd to think that John Boorman’s Excalibur came out years after Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Boorman’s film is so earnest and self-serious that it would be easy to convince yourself that it was a direct source of the Pythons’ mockery. But if that sounds like a dig at Excalibur, it’s not. Sure, the first time you see it, it may take you a few scenes to keep from smirking at its zealous staidness and its nonsensical touches like the fact that the knights of the round table appear to wear their full suits of armor at literally all times. Once you are gently eased onto its wavelength, though, Excalibur becomes an enchanting as one of Merlin or Morgana’s spells.

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Monday Movie: The Score, by David Bax

13 Feb

When you think of great actors teaming up for the first time onscreen, you think immediately of Michael Mann’s Heat. For the first ever pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Mann constructed a centerpiece scene surrounded by a three hour epic movie. The takeaway is that a film of massive import had to exist in order to support the weight of its two stars. That’s why it’s intriguingly odd that De Niro’s other marquee matchup, with none other than Marlon Brando (and with method heir apparent Edward Norton to boot), takes place in a nifty but formulaic mid-budget studio caper flick.

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Monday Movie: Bright Young Things, by David Bax

6 Feb

Bright Young Things is a terribly fun film to watch.  It should be, having been written and directed by the terribly funny British comedian/actor Stephen Fry (why this remains his only directorial effort I cannot grasp) and containing a cast beyond belief (Emily Mortimer, Michael Sheen, Dan Aykroyd, David Tennant, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Stockard Channing, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Richard E. Grant and Peter Freaking O’Toole).  It careens through its complicated and sprawling plot at a pace that could give Guy Ritchie motion sickness.  But it doesn’t rely on its bag of visual tricks merely to keep you entertained.  Stephen Fry (just like Evelyn Waugh, upon whose wonderful 1930 novel Vile Bodies the film is based) is not only a comedian but a satirist, a job description that counts insight and understanding among its prerequisites.  The story follows a loose group of wealthy socialites as they drink and party their way from the late 1920’s to the breakout of World War II (a slight shift from the novel’s timeline).  Fry is not only interested in letting you know that people born into riches who have lived entire lives void of responsibility and often find themselves the subject of cheap press existed well before Paris Hilton.  He also aims to explore, with the whiplash pace of his camera and his dialogue, the ways in which these people are still people.  They are tragically human and dangerously inhuman in ways that are devastating not only for themselves but for the world they live in.  Though it becomes upsettingly bleaker and bleaker as it progresses, Bright Young Things is a film full of life.

Monday Movie: Baby Boy, by David Bax

16 Jan

Back in the summer of 2001, way before #OscarsSoWhite, way before I’d ever heard the term “Social Justice Warrior”—let alone been proud to be one—I was an eighteen-year-old who probably lacked the sophistication or vocabulary to explain why I found John Singleton’s Baby Boy so compelling. Here was a movie that not only had no white characters in it but actually felt like it was made without a white audience in mind. Such movies by and for black Americans were actually more common at the time (Gary Hardwick’s underrated melodrama The Brothers had been released only a few months earlier), before Tyler Perry’s artless, pandering cottage industry cornered the market. In any case, my experience reflects the added bonus of calls for diversity. When we talk about representation, our main focus is rightly on expanding opportunities for people who don’t usually see themselves on movie screens to do so and thus be more empowered in the industry and in the culture at large. As a fringe benefit, though, those of us who are so accustomed to seeing ourselves on screen that it’s unremarkable get a chance to see the world from a new perspective. Isn’t that what movies are supposed to do?

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