Filmmakers generally don’t aim to create a time capsule when they make a contemporary film, but some turn out that way. A case in point is writer-director Cameron Crowe’s “Singles” (1992), the title of which has three meanings: 1) It explores what it’s like to be a single person in a time when it’s becoming less of a societal stigma, and dating is becoming scarier due to knowledge of STDs; 2) It’s set in an apartment complex of single-occupancy units, a notion that also worked for TV’s “Melrose Place” that year; and 3) It’s about music singles – particularly songs by Seattle bands at a time when hair metal is giving way to grunge, and lyrics are becoming more infused with meaning.
Booksmart” has a lot going for it. It’s the centerpiece high school comedy of 2019, and it represents modern times well despite fitting firmly into the genre. But perhaps we use the word “comedy” too automatically in stories about high school graduation and teenage romance, because “Booksmart” isn’t all that funny. Really, this film is about best friends – Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, who resembles Robin Tunney at that age) and Molly (Jonah Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein) – and that part is fine. But director Olivia Wilde’s debut never connects on a big or gut-busting moment. It’s too low-key and casual, regardless of what genre label we put on it.
The 2010s have been the decade of nostalgia, so much so that a genuine feeling of nostalgia doesn’t come up much anymore. The existence of – and the experience of watching – “BH90210” (Wednesdays on Fox) is a case in point. Seeing all seven major living actors from “Beverly Hills, 90210” (1990-2000, Fox) on screen together, as well as Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth watching the original show late in the pilot episode, does indeed kind of make me want to rewatch the original.
As far as movies about high school graduates facing the real world go, there are better entries than “Reality Bites” (1994). “Ghost World” (2001) particularly digs into the conflict between the responsibility of being an adult member of society and being true to yourself, and how irreconcilable that conflict can feel to a young person. Breezy by comparison, “Reality Bites” only touches on those issues, and it ultimately boils down to a love story between Winona Ryder’s Lelaina and Ethan Hawke’s Troy. But that’s not nothing.
Like he would later do for Hollywood with “State and Main” (2000), writer David Mamet lovingly pokes fun at the art of the stage in “A Life in the Theatre,” a 1993 TNT movie based on his 1977 play. Jack Lemmon is magnetic as Robert, an aging community theater thespian, and Matthew Broderick is mostly a sounding board as the up-and-coming John, who is starting to get calls to work in film.
As Boris in “Whatever Works” (2009), it’s no surprise that Larry David comes off as a mix of his “Curb Your Enthusiasm” character (which is himself) and Woody Allen (who writes and directs, and would normally cast himself in the role). Boris is neurotic, and at one point he comments that “I love the way these pants fit,” but he generally has a more macro view of the world than the minutia-obsessed Larry.
Two of Peter’s classmates have a whirlwind romance on a school field trip. Nick Fury is grumpy about his calls going to voicemail. And to Peter’s consternation, Happy and Aunt Mae are flirting. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” flips the cliché of a blockbuster where we marvel at the action sequences and yawn at everything in between. My mind did wander at times during the film, but it was during the bravura special effects – because we live in an age where everything that makes it to theaters has bravura special effects.
It’s hard to take a movie seriously when the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s why “Tank Girl” (1995) isn’t good. Still, it is an interesting style piece that does everything it can to portray a dystopian Earth that requires a big budget when the filmmakers clearly have a small budget; it’s sort of a cheap answer to “Waterworld,” also from 1995. Every time panels of the comic flash on screen, it both adds spice and reminds us that this stuff works better in comics.
Making a great fictional tennis movie is a tall order. The sport is naturally cinematic and filled with personal drama, and there’s no way made-up people and events can compete with what’s really happening on the pro tours. (By contrast, in a team sport like baseball or football, the idea of zeroing in on an individual has enough novelty value that even fictional people can be compelling.) Considering everything stacked against it, though, “Wimbledon” (2004) does not embarrass itself and is rather likable, if not memorable.
Although the two versions of “About Last Night” are one and two degrees removed from David Mamet’s stage play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” – on which the first film is based (the second film is then based on the first film) – some Mametian traits are still in evidence. Here are my takes on the two movies, one of which is worth the effort to track down: