It has become common knowledge that Sergey Bodrov’s Seventh Son has been sitting on the shelf for a while; two years, in fact. But, it feels like it’s been a lot longer than that. Everything about this film feels like a standard sword-and-sorcery film from the mid-80s. This would be perfectly fine- kind of exciting, actually- if it had either brought something new to the genre, or was as committed to the insanity that comes with the genre, as we saw in films like Conan the Barbarian or Legend or Fire and Ice.
“I believe in America.”
This is the first line in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and the choice to kick off a film about the mafia with an optimistic view of America as the land of opportunity is a bold one. It heavily implies that, for one to achieve the American dream, one must get a little dirty. It is a deeply cynical view, which perversely offsets the deep family connections explored in the first film. As time has gone on, this type of cynicism has pervaded the culture to the extent that I would say most people just naturally take it for granted that success isn’t possible without a little corruption.
However, in J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, we do get one man so fiercely devoted not only to the American dream, but to achieving it honestly, that he is every bit as intimidating as any movie gangster. This is Abel Morales, the young owner of a heating oil company in 1981 New York City. He lives in a time of uncertainty, with crime at an all-time high and the recession of the 1970s still echoing in people’s minds.
It seems somehow inconceivable that a film- a musical, no less- about witches, giants, and magic could be as generally flat as Rob Marshall’s latest film. Adapted from the successful Stephen Sondheim stage musical, Into The Woods attempts to combine several well-known fairy tales and use the unified story to explore the concept of “Happily Ever After.” A great idea, and one that, by all accounts, works great on the stage. But, somehow, as Disney translates it to the screen, sanding off all the edges along the way, the story becomes stagnant and uninspired.
Of all the different film genres, the biopic is among the most troublesome. As directors attempt to tell the story of a great historical figure- a politician or an artist- they often opt for a “warts and all” approach, depicting the figure as a deeply flawed individual whose greatness overshadowed his inherent selfishness. To humanize an historical figure isn’t the worst instinct, but too often the filmmaker forgets to include those things that make us interested in the person in the first place.
Ah, the clip show. A staple of sitcoms from the 80s and 90s. So common, in fact, that it was parodied mercilessly in more recent television shows. While I’m hardly a TV aficionado, I’m pretty sure that this practice- filling an episode with clips of famous past moments and passing it off as something new- is a thing of the past. And, for good reason, as it always felt lazy and phoned in. We never learned anything new, never felt anything we hadn’t already felt before. A clip show was always a disappointment; the frustrating realization that we’d have to wait another week for our favorite show to return.
This is how I felt while watching Chuck Workman’s Magician, a documentary about respected film director Orson Welles. Since Welles is already one of the most documented directors of all time, one would expect a movie made in 2014 to dig a little deeper, trying to figure out what made this enigmatic and charismatic character tick. Being a Welles fan myself, I was excited to not only celebrate his work, but maybe learn more about who he was, both as an artist and as a man.
George Romero’s Monkey Shines starts out as a fairly touching story of an athletic young man tragically paralyzed when hit by a car. Once a champion runner, he is now a quadriplegic, only able to move his head. Along with the physical struggles, there are also social implications. His girlfriend, deciding that she just can’t deal with the burden of taking care of him, decides to walk away. However, his overbearing mother sees this as an opportunity to not merely reenter her son’s life, but dominate it. The situation begins to look more and more grim, and we begin to wonder if there is any hope to be found in the young man’s life.
R.W. Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is one of the most accurate depictions of human nature as I’ve ever seen on film. He is a man with great affection for his characters, which one would think would lead him to gloss over their flaws, but actually allows him to see them more clearly. However, there is no condemnation here; only understanding. Like a couple married twenty years that have come to know the positives and negatives of each other so intimately, that the knowledge is itself a comfort.
Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip is an exploration of social expectations that is both fascinating and entertaining. In it, we have characters that are almost hyper-aware of what the world seems to want from them, and they act accordingly. These expectations may run completely counter to what the characters themselves want, but that is quickly pushed aside. These people inhabit the art world, after all, and being true to oneself isn’t nearly as important as appearing to be true to oneself; this would at first appear to be a very slight distinction, but it is the difference between contentedness and utterly misery, as our characters soon discover.