The same thing that excites a viewer about “The Karate Kid” (1984) – the fact that it’s directed by John G. Avildsen and filled with songs by Bill Conti – also brings it crashing down, because “The Karate Kid” is no “Rocky.” It’s no fault of those “Rocky” collaborators — Avildsen gives the film a nice look and gets strong performances out of young Ralph Macchio and veteran Pat Morita, and Conti is on his game, especially with Survivor’s “Moment of Truth” – but many parts of the movie are not fully fleshed out.
Fighting with My Family” doesn’t redefine the sports biopic genre, which in a way is too bad because professional wrestling is such an unusual thing, sitting on the border between athletics and entertainment. It might be fascinating to dig further into the mechanisms of how participants – and ultimately, champions — are chosen and how their narratives are written. As it stands, “Fighting” is a standard biopic in structure, but the story of Paige is so genuinely inspiring, and actress Florence Pugh (“The Little Drummer Girl”) is such a natural star, that the film is totally engaging.
With “The Winslow Boy” (1999), writer-director David Mamet is as much using his name recognition as he is using his skill to bring an important story to the public’s attention. Based on a real legal case, the film is adapted from Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play, which was made into a film two years later, co-written by Rattigan. The 1948 film rates a few percentage points higher (7.7 to 7.4) on IMDB than Mamet’s version. Yet this adaptation is important because it brings a crucial story to a wider audience, and it’s also impeccably directed in Mamet’s no-moment-wasted 105-minute style without sacrificing any turn-of-the-20th-century British affectations.
Ten years ago today, I started this blog with a (shamefully positive) review of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” so I’m marking the anniversary with the launch of an appropriate new series: Superhero Saturdays. Fittingly, I think this first selection is a good entry point and thesis statement for the genre of superhero films.
The brilliance of “mid90s” (2018), now available on Amazon Prime, is in the details. Writer-director Jonah Hill, known for his comedic acting roles, grew up in this time, and he has a great ear for the way teenagers talked – and the way coolness was the only currency that mattered. Watched from the perspective of 2019, the film makes us think about how the maturation of teen culture has benefited the most vulnerable kids, but also how mid-’90s teens were toughened up by the casual meanness around them.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” recently wrapped an amazing four-season run with Rebecca Bunch (co-creator Rachel Bloom) deciding to pursue love – as in her love of writing songs, but now she’ll do it on paper instead of in her head. As fans know, not all of the 150 to 300 songs (depending on how you count them) from “CXG’s” run were in Rebecca’s head, meaning that Josh, Greg, Nathaniel, Paula, Heather, Darryl, etc. also did their share of internal songwriting.
There’s something to be said about B-list superheroes. The average moviegoer (who doesn’t have a doctorate in comic-book lore) has lower expectations, and we also don’t have as many preconceived notions about what the movie should be. “Shazam!,” featuring a game turn by Zachary Levi and a cadre of good child actors, slots nicely into this space, calling to mind “Big” (and at one point directly referencing the Tom Hanks classic) but also making me hope the kid-on-the-inside Shazam can exchange dialog with the dour Batman at some point.
Looking for a Throwback Thursday in conjunction with Brie Larson’s “Captain Marvel,” I perused her IMDB credits to note the films I’d already seen. I was surprised to find it was about a half-dozen films. To me, Larson is an actress who doesn’t pop off the screen but gives solid, workhorse turns in whatever she’s in. “Room” (2015), though, stands out because she’s asked to carry the film along with young Jacob Tremblay as her son; this is also the role where Academy Awards voters noticed her, thus leading to the bizarre situation at this year’s show where Larson is introduced as an Oscar winner and Samuel L. Jackson as a mere nominee.
Summer ’03” (2018) had the misfortune of coming out the same year as “Eighth Grade,” which showed new blood can be wrung from the stone of coming-of-age dramedies. Stacked against other entries in the genre – but especially that one – “Summer ’03” is tame, without a sharp or original perspective. The trappings of a decent film are here, including lead actress Joey King – very much in her “She’ll be a star someday” mode – and nice Georgia cinematography (although the film takes place in Cincinnati for some reason) by Ben Hardwicke.
When I throw around the phrase “makeshift family” in reviews, I’m usually talking about tight groups of friends. But the Japanese film “Shoplifters” (2018) shows us a more literal makeshift family. It’s about six societal castoffs who live together in a tiny house owned by the woman they call “Grandma” (Kirin Kiki).