Saturday, August 23, 2014

Star Time

Chadwick Boseman and Craig Robinson in Get On Up

In spite of its similarity to other recent musical biopics, Get On Up (2014, directed by Tate Taylor), a biography of James Brown, stands apart both for the intensity of its musical scenes and its cinematic invention. This is not a dry recitation of facts, nor is it any kind of redemptive narrative. This is a portrait of the artist as an egotistical asshole, one that skips around in time and breaks the fourth wall and generally throbs with a kind of staccato cinematic life. It's a film that lives and breathes as film, something that has eluded other projects of its type. As such, it's energizing, a quality augmented by an absolutely killer soundtrack. James Brown in life was a braggart and egotist who variously claimed to have invented funk and rap as new musical forms. Musicologists of late have come to think that Brown was entirely too modest. Brown was a musical titan, but, man, the Brown in this film decidedly has feet of clay.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

You Know How To Whistle, Don't You?

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not

According to legend, To Have and Have Not (1944, directed by Howard Hawks) was made on a bet. Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway were hunting (and drinking) buddies. Hawks was a fan of the writer but not of To Have and Have Not. "A bunch of junk," he called it. He bet Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of it, or so the legend goes. Whether this is true or not doesn't really matter, I guess. It's Hollywood, after all, and when the legend becomes fact and all that. What we do know is that Hawks bought the rights from Howard Hughes and sold them to Warner Brothers, hired an out of work and out of print writer named William Faulkner to write the movie with Jules Furthman (a move that surely rankled Hemingway, given the rivalry between Faulkner and Hemingway), and discarded most of the second half of the book. He also cast an unknown actress in the lead. Her name was Lauren Bacall.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Dancing Among the Stars

Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy

After I saw the film, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, directed by James Gunn) that went something like this:

Me: I have no idea of how I'm going to write about this film. There's nothing there to write about!

Friend:'s pretty lightweight.

Me: I suppose I could cobble something together about how it's got a queer subtext and it's about how people who are cast out of their own families are forced to form families of choice.

Friend: Hmm...I could see that.

Me: Man, this movie is shallow.

Upon reflection, I think that the formation of families of choice is exactly what the film is about, only in a painfully heterosexual way. I might even be offended by the appropriation if the movie were more interested in that theme rather than in blowing shit up real good. As it is, the pleasures of Guardians of the Galaxy are all on the surface. There's not really anything wrong with that, I guess.