I’m not the target audience for “Emma,” but given how good Anya Taylor-Joy is in everything – most recently, TV’s “The Queen’s Gambit” – I figured if she can’t hook me on this Jane Austen classic, nobody can. Well, actually, I am an admirer of “Clueless” (1995), but probably more for the modernized aspects than the core elements.
John Hughes gets a little dark in “She’s Having a Baby” (1988), his sixth entry as a writer-director. Stuck between the well-trod tropes of high school and the delightful absurdities of family life, Hughes and his main character, Jake Briggs (Kevin Bacon), don’t know what they want out of this movie/life. Jake is morose, with lots of forced smiles; his wife Kristy (Elizabeth McGovern) is hard to read; and their house is homey but ill-lit in that 1980s Midwest fashion. For most of its runtime, this isn’t a happy movie.
In a cosmic coincidence, Philip K. Dick’s depressive yelling-into-a-void rants that make up his wonderful midcentury California novels share common ground with the comedic sensibilities of the French. Fittingly, director/co-writer Jérôme Boivin’s “Barjo” — which translates as “nutcase” and is based on “Confessions of a Crap Artist” (written in 1959 and published in 1975) – is the lone movie drawn from PKD’s non-SF catalog. (It can be found here, with unfortunately too-literally translated subtitles — did they come straight from Google Translate? And you’ll want to change the Settings to 0.75 playback speed.)
Nate and Hayes” (1983) was probably not a passion project for John Hughes – who co-writes the screenplay with David Odell (“Supergirl”), from a story by Lloyd Phillips. It’s probably a case of him earning a paycheck as he worked to gain Hollywood clout. However, he infuses some fun and energy into this 19th century South Pacific swashbuckler. I wouldn’t know this is a Hughes script if I had gone in blind, but considering that Odell tends to embrace magic and mysticism in his other works, I’m tempted to credit Hughes for “N&H’s” grounded nature.
Writer-director Alexander Payne’s breakthrough film, “Election,” was somewhat buried among the glut of teen classics in 1999. That’s appropriate, because it’s more timeless and less nostalgic than its brethren from that year; today, it remains a near-perfect portrayal of elections, popularity and the fact that God does not favor the best human beings. I almost typed “satire” instead of “portrayal,” but “Election” is too on-point to be called a satire. (It is a comedy, though, in that way of extended takes and funny images – like a tiny car peeling through town – that are Payne’s staple.)
After his four high school films as a director, John Hughes moved on to four family friendly films – the last of which is the strangest: “Curly Sue” (1991). On one level, this is another easy-to-like yarn about family and friendships. Chicago has never looked better in a Hughes film, as cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball showcases both halves: the glitzy side and the seedy side. The latter half is still appealing because it features our lovable, homeless title kid (Alisan Porter) and the surprisingly principled dad (Jim Belushi as Bill Dancer) who devises small-time cons to get their next meal.
With “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Netflix) – his spiritual (pun intended) sequel to 2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” — Mike Flanagan continues to solidify his status as a horror auteur tapped into the tragic beauty afforded by the genre. A damp, dark-haired, white-dressed, hidden-faced woman in a Flanagan work is more than a scary ghost: She symbolizes the bittersweet tragedy of a forgotten past. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
Not all October premieres have to be scary – although a lot of them are (see later in this post) – so let’s start off this look at first episodes of new streaming shows with “Emily in Paris” (Netflix). Well, I shouldn’t say it’s not at all scary. The story of Chicagoan Emily’s relocation to Paris for her job emphasizes her outsider status and loneliness even though she always puts on her delightfully Lily Collins face.
John Hughes’ writing talent and knack for capturing teenagers’ voices were on display pretty early, but his direction is a little clunky at the start of his career. Granted, I gave “The Breakfast Club” a five-banana rating, but I love it despite its flaws and I suspect it was saved in the editing room. For “Pretty in Pink” (1986), Hughes remembers that high school is easier to get through with a friend, so he wisely brings in Howard Deutch to direct.
Many moments in “Weird Science” (1985) – the third directorial effort from writer John Hughes – make me think “This movie couldn’t be made today.” Geeks Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) build a girl for the purpose of having sex with her (albeit vaguely), and Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) regularly speaks of how they own her. Lisa, clearly an adult, kisses Wyatt, who hasn’t hit puberty. The heroes defeat the evil motorcycle gang by standing up to them and calling them “f-g—s.” (Granted, that slur is always used in Hughes’ movies – because of his era – but here it’s used heroically.)