Monday, August 23, 2010
Déjà Vu is an odd film. It is almost magical. At first glance, you will see a simple film. A simple film about simple people set in simple times. In fact, I will admit, reading about the film beforehand, it sounds a bit boring. It is a typical romantic drama of two married people who meet by chance and fall in love.
That is the log line when viewed from afar. When you dig deeper, you will find a fantastic and warm film about people just like you or me or anyone else really.
Dana Howard is an antique shop owner and travels around the world looking for new artifacts for her store. On a business trip to Israel, she has a chance encounter with a strange, but lovely woman who approaches her and tells her of a story of when she was a young girl during the war, and falling in love with an American GI. The love affair was not to be, however, the woman leaves behind the only artifact that still remains from the relationship, which was one half of a pin. The woman leaves for a moment, and suddenly Dana realizes that things are not what they seem to be. For example, sitting behind her were two female soldiers. But as the woman left, suddenly two completely different people appeared out of nowhere and claim to have been sitting there the whole time. Thus begins, a unique and fascinating journey to find the woman, which leads her to meet a British man who sweeps her off her feet.
Déjà Vu is a love story, yes. But it is a love story in the classic sense of the term. A movie that feels not of its time, the 1990s, but of another time and place. A movie that belongs in that great era of movie-making in the 1930s and 40s. The “golden age”, as they say. The entire movie can be better represented by a story told by one of the characters midway through the film.
The story goes that when Katherine Hepburn was a young lady, before she became a movie star, and the most famous actress in the world, she was once in a car, being driven by her driver. On the way to their destination, the driver needed to stop off at a store to buy some things. So, they stopped off, and the driver went inside. And Katharine remained in the backseat of the car. A few moments later, another car pulled up a few feet away from Miss Hepburn’s car. The backseat passenger of that car rolled his window down and a young man peered out. A very good looking man. The two of them glanced at each other, just glanced, and the whole world just stopped. Nothing existed anymore. Nobody existed; it was just the two of them. And later in her life, Katharine Hepburn said that she knew at that moment, that they were meant for each other. That he was made specifically for her, and she was made specifically for him. But the driver returned, and they drove off. And she never saw him again. Katharine Hepburn lived to be 96 years old. She was quoted as saying that not a day went by that she never thought of that young man, never thought of what could have been. The point of the story is also the point of the movie, and might also be a way of explaining true love and the purpose of existence in general. Sometimes in life, you are presented with an opportunity. A rare opportunity. And you have two choices: you either go with it and see what happens or you ignore it and perhaps end up regretting it forever.
Déjà Vu is an amazing and unique film and even if only one person reads this and watches it, I will smile and know that this film had an impact on at least one other person than myself.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Last Action Hero might feel like a weird choice to be added to a list of underrated films, but I think it’s worth the distinction. This is one of those action movies that tried to be an innovator in its genre instead of being a typical explosion filled cliché machine. Ironically, it is explosion filled, and it does feature a crazy number of clichés, but that’s the point. It’s a very self mocking action picture. And it’s also a movie within a movie. How many times have you seen a high profile action movie starring one of the most famous a recognizable faces with a concept like that?
Directed by John McTiernan, known best for helming Die Hard and Die Hard 3, Last Action Hero was originally conceived by a couple of college friends including Zak Penn who would later pen several X-Men movies, excuse the pun. A big budget film which notoriously flopped at the box office, it is ultimately plagued by two elements of production. The shots and the cuts. Some of the shots look as if they shot for a low profile television show or commercial. And the editing was awful. There were tons of shots that should have been taken out, but due to pressure from the studio boss, the movie was cut in just two months, not nearly enough time to produce a blockbuster of this large a magnitude.
Schwarzenegger at the time was the biggest star in the world, pulling in $15 to $20 million a picture. He decided to take a departure from serious sci fiction films such as Total Recall and Terminator 2 and focused on a high concept action-comedy where he would be portraying a thinly veiled version of himself.
Filled with cameos from stars such as Sharon stone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria Shriver, Jim Belushi, and Robert Patrick (who starred opposite Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2), Last Action Hero is a movie about movies, the clichés we all know and expect, and the obsession the public has with movies and celebrities in general.
The most significant reason for this movie’s failure at the box office and with critics as well, is that the audience never had the desire to see a movie about a movie. They don’t want to see death and explosions within another film. People watch this film and essentially the fourth wall is broken and that scares people because it breaks the illusion that film provides us with.
This film was a big risk for those involved. Schwarzenegger’s star managed not to drop too far off after the release of this film. He quickly followed it up with his third venture with James Cameron on the hugely successful action-spy thriller, True Lies.
McTiernan went on to direct Die Hard 3 just two years later; it ended up being one of the most successful installments of the popular series. The concept, however, has never managed to scratch the surface of celluloid again. Because as this film proved, people don’t want that illusion broken for them. They need the movies. They need it for entertainment. For fantasy value. For escape. For some, Last Action Hero was a neat twist on an old formula. For others, it was a failed experiment that did not ultimately satisfy. Either way, it is a unique piece of action cinema, and definitely worthy of a second look for those who have not thought of it in several years.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is an appropriate title for a wonderful film directed by Rebecca Miller. Released in 2009, the indie flick centers on a 40-ish, still pretty, blonde wife and mother who moves into a retirement village with her much older husband, played by the always amazing Alan Arkin. Despite the 30 year age difference, they have great chemistry together as husband and wife. While she adjusts to this new life, she begins a strange friendship with the son of a neighbor, played by Keanu Reeves. Wright-Penn (or is it just Wright now?) plays the title character of Pippa Lee, a woman who slowly begins to lose her sanity and occasionally drifts back on moments of her life. Pippa’s mother, who is portrayed by Mario Bello, gives a standout performance in very little available screen time. In fact everyone does. The cast is stunning. In addition to Wright-Penn, Arkin, Reeves and Bello, you also have supporting roles from Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore, Monica Bellucci, Zoe Kazan, Mike Binder, and the absolute best surprise of them all, Blake Lively, who plays Pippa as a teenager, and who falls in love with a 50-ish Arkin and marries him.
It is quite possibly the best written drama of the last 18 months. Although it got no love from the Academy (not surprised there. They rarely reward the best films anyway), it did make quite a splash on the indie circuit. The film is in fact, based on writer/director Rebecca Miller’s book of the same name. Miller is of course married to the two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who starred in Miller’s last effort, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, released in 2005.
Pippa Lee excels where others fail. It manages to hold our attention, even though it jumps back and forth between time periods and characters, which is mostly comprised of a core of (very talented) female leads.
The story is so nicely woven together, almost like a beautiful piece of fabric. It is so pleasant to simply listen to the characters talk as if they really exist, and not just speak as if they are in a play or something. Of course, when you deal with such professionals as Alan Arkin and Robin Wright-Penn and Rebecca Miller, you know you will receive a good package.
It is Blake Lively, however, that held the center of my attention the most. Watching her onscreen was a pleasure. A real pleasure. She was only 21 or 22 years old at the time of filming and yet she gave a mature and provocative performance. Her career will go to far depths if she continues on this path. Although, with limited knowledge of the business, it is difficult to surmise what outside influences are really controlling her career choices at this time. In any event, we will always have The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. A career high for several of its stars. And one of my favorite films of 2009.