Reinaldo Marcus Green directs Will Smith, Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney in this biopic of Venus and Serena’s ambitious, committed and mercurial father.
How you approach this will define how much you appreciate it. A Will Smith vehicle that stretches him with both eyes clearly on Awards season? Or an inspirational biopic of the Williams sisters – the biggest names in tennis for the entirety of this century? I came for both, so was mightily satisfied, but if you just come for the latter you’ll need to be a tad patient as this is a movie far more focussed on the parenting than the match points. The somewhat extreme parenting. Richard Williams is clearly a fascinating figure. The Fresh Prince tries to dial back his natural likability and try to play him as Denzel might. Now Smith might not have to acting talent of Mister Washington but he certainly tries hard here and dominates the movie, battling to master the drama as much as the jokes. He’s certainly a Best Actor Oscar contender based on the psychologically complex portrait that is achieved. The second hour Venus’ agency and talent start to come to the fore. She starts pushing against her father’s protection of her talent, making her own decisions, playing for her self. We get there, to her story rather than his story, but it takes a lotta of movie for it to feel like that. This possibly spins its wheels a little too long before we get to “the big match”. If I was guessing why there is so much air and repetition here I’d wager it is a project that maybe has one overly invested executive producer too many. Yet there is tons of good stuff and fine stuff, nothing included is bloat. I’d certainly watch it again.
Perfect Double Bill: The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Jason Reitman directs Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon and McKenna Grace in this legacy sequel where Egon Spengler’s estranged grandchildren inherit the mantle of Ghostbusters.
A fascinating attempt to appease the fans and trap a new generation to boot. The first hour was pretty magical… littered with Easter eggs and moments of genuine reverence to the beloved 1984 smash (don’t expect many references to Vigo, the Master of Evil). Then you realise it doesn’t really have much more in the tank but a replay of the plot of the first movie with a younger cast. And that’s fine. That’s OK. Strange to watch something that was so hip and urbane thirty five years ago be so smoothed out though. We end on a Marvel-esque big CGI swirl finale. The jokes are pretty soft. This is more Ghostbusters by way of Spielberg or Lucas rather than Ivan Reitman or SNL. The always welcome Paul Rudd gets a little left behind in the ultimate narrative but Grace and Logan Kim make for nice Muppet Baby substitutes for Ramis and Aykroyd respectively. The FX in the first half are wonderful. Would I have wanted a smidge more from the original cast? Yes. Should there have been at least one more Ghostbusting set piece? Definitely. As lovely as the reprises from Elmer Bernstein’s score are… why not a bit of sexy funk too? Really what I want is more of that original flavour! This is trying to be its own thing without alienating the fans. Mission accomplished and accomplished pretty safely. A fun afternoon at the movies that I hope the tween market it is also made for love quite as much as I do the originals.
Peter Weir directs Harrison Ford, River Phoenix and Helen Mirren in this adventure drama where an obsessed inventor breaks from civilisation and transplants his family to the tropical wilds.
Any movie starring Harrison Ford was a pretty big deal when I was a kid. I certainly watched this too young and impressionable in the Eighties with no idea it was meant to be taken as serious drama rather than a Han Solo in the jungle adventure movie. I found stuff to enjoy in it then and I find plenty to appreciate in it now. Ford is working double hard to not just rely on his natural charisma, and while he shows his effort a little too obviously, it probably is his best piece of screen acting. Brave for him to play such morally dubious character at that point in his career. Someone so reckless with their family’s well being is such a rarity on screen… not quite villain but certainly not the all American hero we are used to. Phoenix is great as our point of view for all the madness that unfolds as paradise turns to hellscape. Peter Weir leans into his on location shoot and this proves a pretty classy psychological attack on Western values. The Witness team of composer Maurice Jarre and cinematographer John Seale guarantee this sounds and looks superb. An underrated gem.
Sam Peckinpah directs Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw and Ernest Borgnine in this action road comedy where a group of truckers begin protesting on the roads after getting a raw deal from the cops.
Bar fights. Sexy hitchhikers. Police brutality. This would have been marketed as a family movie back in the day. There’s a certain good ole boy bonhomie that is effective and some truly chaotic vehicle stunts. Feels a million light years away from what kids and adults get spoonfed as blockbusters now. The political and social commentary aspects are done better in things like Being There or The Sugarland Express but at least they are still present… you’d never imagine such a subplot in a Fast and Furious’s movie. Yet for an auteur film based around a novelty country song this is full of spunk and can be surprisingly hard hitting. I hear Peckinpah didn’t fully direct this one (one for them), allowing James Coburn to earn some behind camera experience while he went on coke and booze benders in his caravan. Fair enough, doesn’t show.
Kinji Fukasaku directs Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata and Nobuo Kaneko in this Japanese faux documentary following the post-war power struggles of a new generation of yakuza in Hiroshima.
Lurid and relentless. Like watching a “Previously on The Yakuza Papers” recap that lasts a daunting 90 minutes. There’s plenty of violence and some likeable character do somehow emerge from the sprawl. But could I watch 8 further entries of this and keep my bearings at this pace of storytelling? Probably not.
John N. Smith directs Michelle Pfeiffer, George Dzundza and Courtney B. Vance in this high school drama based around the true story of a former Marine who takes control of a class of delinquents.
Gangster’s Paradise by Coolio is iconic. The movie it was attached to is pretty rote and unconvincing. If you want to see this subject matter handled well see Season 4 of The Wire. Michelle Pfeiffer holds her own among the musty, mawkish material but the best scene is where an old black lady puts her sexy “white saviour” ass in its place. A surprisingly profitable hit back in its day.
Mike Newall directs Miranda Richardson, Rupert Everett and Ian Holm in this British crime biopic of Ruth Ellis – the glamorous but unstable working class single mother who became the last woman to be sentenced to death in the U.K..
A wonderful central performance by Richardson in her movie debut – sexy, fragile and combative. Newall’s direction shows visual promise making full use of a few seedy sets, an attractive cast and the occasional impactful close-up. Can’t think of anything else he’s done that looks quite this good.
Krzysztof Kieślowski directs Bogusław Linda, Tadeusz Łomnicki and Marzena Trybała in this Polish arthouse fable which shows three different outcomes of a student’s life, dependent on whether he catches the train he is running for.
Yeah I get it. But often overly grim and depressing. Good to know that whichever timeline we follow, a different Eastern European goddess will lower her standards and start sleeping with this unspectacular dude.
Wolfgang Petersen directs Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman in this ensemble thriller where an Ebola-like contagion enters the US and a maverick USAMRIID virologist attempts to track and contain the timeline of the virus.
The deadly monkey movie. I had read Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone the year before and this rival project (of a similar but fictional outbreak) got into production first thus negating a straight adaptation with Jodie Foster and Robert Redford at the time. The basic concept of a disease that liquifies your organs and evolves how it spreads is ripe with cinematic potential. I remember this being an armrest gripping blast back on release. Recent Warner Bros smash The Fugitive and Seventies disaster movies are definite influences in format and tone. However it does suffer from a baggy middle section that doesn’t quite lean into the mass hysteria of such a plague overwhelming a large township. And Hoffman, bless him, is out of his comfort zone as an army colonel. This is a solid man of action role which has Harrison Ford written all over the part. Beyond those niggles, there’s plenty of chases and gleefully unnecessary sprouts of scale. ‘When in doubt bang a helicopter in’ is the movie’s flamboyant creed. Donald Sutherland approaches his reckless general role with relish – a real boo hiss antagonist. And the prominent monkey stuff, the cutest carrier of death on legs, is handled with surprising class.
Ermanno Olmi directs Rutger Hauer, Anthony Quayle and Dominique Pinon in this arthouse parable where a drunken homeless man is lent 200 francs by a pious stranger, under the promise he’ll repay it to a local church when he is back on his feet.
Feels very much like a novella turned into a feature length film. There is a certain simplicity and literary pretension to this that will either lose you or seduce you. I liked this – despite a certain ambient predictability. It is nice seeing Hauer in a serious, full fat role… even if in my heart of hearts I’d much rather see him kick ass and take names in some substandard action B-Movie that wouldn’t even make my top 10 for him.