PARKLAND – The Fallen Idol

Watching Chappaquiddick last week, with its surprisingly straight retelling of a controversial historical event, brought to mind another excellent historical drama which involved another Kennedy. Though this film is decidedly more sympathetic to the Kennedy at the center of it.

Very few historical events have captured the public imagination as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The 2013 film Parkland attempts to shed some sobering light on this event and does a great job doing it. The film is a very real and intense look at those few hours in Dallas in November of 1963 and removes the veil of legend and purported conspiracy on what was a very tragic event.

With a stellar cast and almost constant tension, Parkland is a great piece of historical cinema and joins Chappaquiddick as another straightforward, unbiased look at a historical event. But I would expect nothing less from producer Tom Hanks and the rest of the group who produced such great historical dramas as Band of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams, and From the Earth to the Moon.

In the midst of tearing the veil of legend, Parkland also gives the viewer a stark look at just how much the American public idolized John F. Kennedy. All their hopes for the future were placed on his weak and finite shoulders. What the film highlights most is humanity’s propensity for idol worship. Putting one’s faith in a person, especially a politician, is never a wise choice.

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CHAPPAQUIDDICK – A “Character” Study

chap-poster-newThe night of July 18, 1969, is an important date in American politics, yet few Americans today know of its significance. That was the night that Massachusettes Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy was involved in an automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island that took the life of a young female staffer, Mary Jo Kopechne.

It was an incident that haunted Kennedy and hindered his political career for the rest of his life – torpedoing his chances of ever becoming President of the United States like his brother John did and his other brother Bobby tried to do.

That tragic incident is the subject of the excellent new historical drama, Chappaquiddick – a relatively small movie that probably couldn’t have been made when the senator was still alive, given his lionization by the media and culture. There’s a lot of mystery and innuendo surrounding the incident, but the film thankfully sticks to the facts at hand and presents an unflinchingly fair look at the events of that night and its immediate aftermath. It’s the cold drama of history at its finest.

The story of Chappaquiddick comes to life through some amazing performances and brilliant storytelling. However, the themes of the story were what really got to me. Ted Kennedy’s reactions to the swirl of controversy around him turned the film into an intriguing character study, but not in the way one would initially think.

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READY PLAYER ONE – The Material and the Eternal

RPO PosterWhen Steven Spielberg is on his game, it’s a wonderful thing to watch. And Ready Player One is a wonderful thing to watch. After his effective but pretentious The Post dropped earlier this year, I was hoping that Ready Player One would be a return-to-form for the old master, and I was right.

Ready Player One takes place in a not-so-distant future that is centered around the people who play in a virtual social media/gaming network called the OASIS. The story is great classic Spielberg – with iconic visuals, fun moments, and loads of borderline schmaltzy sentimentality. Yet, it also has a few glaring plot points that I just couldn’t let slide that keeps it from being truly great.

The world of Ready Player One is science-fiction at its best – showing us a possible future shaped by the trends and culture of today. It’s a virtual world of wonders to be sure, but it calls attention to a simple, dark truth about the human heart.

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MUPPET GUYS TALKING – Reflecting on Folly

Muppet-guys-talking-posterI have been enamored with the Muppets as long as I can remember. The movies, the TV shows, the cartoons – I love all of it. Jim Henson is one of my heroes, and I try to instill his philosophy (his sense of dedication, whimsy, play, and of course, controlled mayhem) in all my creative work to this day. I never tire of hearing stories from the early Muppet performers about just how the whole thing came together.

Muppet Guys Talking is a great glimpse into those early days of the Muppets. Directed by the legendary Frank Oz (who performed Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Bert, Sam Eagle, as well as Yoda in the Star Wars films, among others), this documentary is a fascinating conversation between five of the original Muppet performers: Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, and Bill Barretta. It’s a sincere bit of filmmaking – short on budget and flashy sets, but big on heart and fun. I loved every moment of it!

Muppet Guys Talking is very funny, but it’s is also surprisingly deep, with the performers really getting into the philosophical origins of their characters and Jim Henson’s modus operandi. This lead to an interesting discussion throughout the film about just how the Muppets relate to the truths of the human condition.

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DEATH WISH (2018) – Vengeance is His

Death-Wish-2017-movie-posterI have to give Eli Roth a lot of credit. It takes some serious chutzpah to remake a movie like Death Wish in the current cultural climate. After the tragic mass shooting in Florida brought gun control back to the forefront, I’m honestly surprised that MGM still wanted to release it. That being said, the movie is definitely getting more of a bad rap than it deserves. Most critics are reviewing this movie through a politically-skewed lens.

Released in 1974, the original Death Wish was a morally ambiguous political and social statement of its time. The story of a mild-mannered man gunning down criminals in the streets was a cathartic release for the American public, which was fed up with the day’s high urban crime rate, especially in places like New York City. It was a cynical movie that was ripe for the cynical 1970s. Seeing the film fairly recently for the first time, I expected it to be a rousing action film and it ended up being a disturbing look at one man’s downward spiral into vengeance and murder.

Though it shares its name and basic plot points with the classic 1974 original, this remake, with Bruce Willis standing in for Charles Bronson, is an almost entirely different Death Wish – which is good, bad, and peculiar. It’s entertaining and somewhat profound, and the context of today’s world gives it a resonance that hits home in several places. However, the film eventually loses focus and has trouble deciding what kind of film it wants to be.

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