Thursday, April 28, 2022

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg)

Phoning home twenty years later

Steven Spielberg’s ET: The Extraterrestrial begins with a vast forest at night: with shadows, rustling leaves, slow tracking shots, and John Williams’ eerily atmospheric music--or so you think, until you realize that it’s really Bernard Herrmann’s opening theme to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (but never mind; call it a tribute). There is an alien ship, and creatures milling about the ship. One strays a little further than the others, is fascinated by a glimpse of city lights; we’re fascinated with his fascination. The passage reminds you of some of the better sequences in Disney movies, the way they combine imagery and music to create a twilight world filled with hidden delights. Never mind if the “hidden delight” is merely the hillside view of a California suburb--Spielberg presents it to us, and to the creature, as if someone had scattered a fistful of jewels across a tabletop.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Apollo 10 1/2 (Richard LInklater, 2022)

Destination moon

(Warning: plot and finale discussed in explicit detail)

Richard Linklater's Apollo 10 1/2 is the director's take on the moon landing, which for him isn't just a passion project or historic event to dramatize but his childhood, literally. Maybe one of the funnier moments in the film is when Stan (Milo Coy as the youth, Jack Black as the reminiscing adult) cites all the ways the space race has permeated everyday life: not just car dealership discounts ("the closer they get to the moon the lower our prices are!"), but a rocket slide (which were everywhere-- I remember one at Burnham Park in Baguio City that got rustier and rustier year after year), multimilliondollar space epics (Destination Moon on TV, 2001: A Space Odyssey on a really big screen), the nearby Astrodome (complete with Astroturf), and almost daily bombardments of the Apollo program's progress in beating the Soviets to the moon.

The film has a plot, of sorts: Stan has been approached by government agents to participate in an improvised space program where they try out all the equipment meant for Apollo astronauts on him first, because the LM (lunar module to you non-space geeks) had accidentally been built too small for an adult.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

Mean streets

Call The Last Temptation of Christ my favorite Martin Scorsese film-- not perhaps his best or most ambitious, just my favorite. Grew up Catholic, saw many of the classic Jesus movies, liked most of them with little contextual knowledge or sense of discernment. By '88 I'd seen and enjoyed Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours; the idea of Scorsese tackling the life of Jesus-- knowing he wasn't shy about using Catholic imagery, or about putting personal beliefs and feelings about his faith on the big screen-- seemed like an especially interesting idea.

That was the theory; in practice I arrived at the movie theater with a picket line blocking the entranceway, folks waving signs like 'SCORSESE PRINCE OF LIES' and 'LEW WASSERMAN CAUSING JEW HATE' (Wasserman was chairman of MCA, Universal Studio's parent company). "Would you like to know the real story of Christ?" a cleancut young man in a necktie asked me, waving a bible. "I read it," I told him, stepping into the theater. 

Friday, April 08, 2022

Pyaasa (Thirst, Guru Dutt, 1957)

Messiah complex

Film critic Pauline Kael once said: "Ray is the only Indian director; he is as yet, in a class by himself." She adds: "The Indian film industry is so throughly corrupt that Ray could start fresh, as if it did not exist." 

A startling statement, if one considers fellow Bengalis Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen; or more classical filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt; or (more recently) Mani Ratnam, Shekar Kapur, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishna-- I could go on. Yes Indian cinema may be corrupt (but what cinema isn't?); it's also a treasure cave of jewels, of a variety and beauty Kael can't possibly imagine.