Category: Main Slate

September 21, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Moon – 2009 – dir. Duncan Jones

In Moon (dir. Duncan Jones, 2009), Sam Rockwell plays the scruffy hipster-next-door on the moon, who turns out to be both more and less than what he seems.  With impressive set design, constructed with tiny models instead of CGI, Moon inhabits not the 1960s techno-future of visible progress, but the 1970s paranoid present of hidden ulterior motives.  In a way, Moon recalls not so much the actual space race, but the aftermath of plastic modules on the kitchen table, with an excess of glue and tiny pieces that don’t seem to fit anymore.

September 17, 2009 / / Main Slate

Star Trek – 2009 – dir. JJ Abrams

Before I went to see J. J. Abrams’ version of the classic franchise, I was treated to dark whispers and quiet warnings such as, “If you’re a big-time Trekkie, you’re not going to like it.”

Being a moderate-time Trekkie, as opposed to a big-time one, I hotly anticipated the release through two years of promotional posters, mysterious trailers, and vague, origin-story allusions.  I have to confess that along with Pixar’s Up, Star Trek is likely one of the best movies of the year.  It’s not just a good sci-fi movie.  It’s a good movie.

August 25, 2009 / / Main Slate

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000 – dir. Ang Lee

“When in comes to the affairs of the heart, even the greatest warriors can be consummate idiots.”

Ang Lee’s homage to Du Lu Wang’s kung-fu novel, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, I must confess, did not make an instant impression upon me the first time that I saw it.  The film soars with Lee’s breathtaking direction and cinematography by Academy award-winner Peter Pau, but I found the story meandering and simple.

Of course, I missed the point, discovered only after a re-watch.  The story is indeed simple.  It is the characters who are complex.  This is an ironic movie about opposites: finding through loss.  Gaining through sacrifice.  Joy through despair.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a simple story about masculinity, femininity, and life.

August 21, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Christine and Robert Bamberger

The Thin Man – 1934 – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

Most people get a terrific kick out of the interplay between William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, especially in the original, made just before the Production Code in Hollywood went into full force. But the film’s convoluted plot and numerous characters make it necessary to keep notes just to follow along. In getting a handle on the many personalities in the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that this large cast of characters, spread all over the periphery of the plot, is not peripheral at all. Indeed, this bunch serves to draw our attention even more to Nick and Nora Charles.

August 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

Footsteps in the Dark – 1941 – dir Lloyd Bacon

A smart, breezy romp cut from the same cloth as The Thin Man series, Footsteps in the Dark marked a change in the actor Errol Flynn’s career.  Until this movie was made, the very popular matinee idol was known primarily for his rousing, period piece swashbucklers and he jumped at the opportunity to trade in his Robin Hood tights and swords for a chance to prove himself as a deft comedian. He more than succeeds.

August 7, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Amy Tetreault

The Muppets Take Manhattan – 1984 – dir. Frank Oz

Muppets Take Manhattan is the third in a series of live-action musical feature films with Jim Henson’s loveable Muppets. Released in 1984, this is also the final film before Jim Henson’s sudden death in 1990. In 1992, Henson was posthumously awarded the Courage of Conscience Award for being a “Humanitarian, muppeteer, producer and director of films for children that encourage tolerance, interracial values, equality and fair play.” Muppets Take Manhattan is a great example of Henson’s renowned work for both kids and adults. In fact, at times, I thought the Muppets were better geared for adults than kids. Besides the fact that the Muppets are made of cloth, their story in Muppets Take Manhattan is totally relate-able. Especially right now.

July 2, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Easy Rider – 1969 – dir. Dennis Hopper

Easy Rider (dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969), like it’s lesser-known sibling, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), poses the question, where are you going when all the roads are mapped?  In their constant motion, Wyatt/Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are seeking unmapped territory, but the only unmapped territory is within.  By refusing to settle in one place, by being nomads, they are refusing the predetermined categories of social role and occupation.

Freedom has been synonymous with freedom of the open road since before this country was founded: freedom to wander around in space, to break free of the boundaries of town, city, job, habits, and self, and simply go, to wander in space and see what and who you might find.  The hippies in Easy Rider are icons now, and were icons then.  But they’re on a journey much older than hippies – the Beats, too, had their road, the hobos theirs, the frontiersmen and pioneers their roads, stolen from and grafted on top of the Native Americans’ trajectories in space.

June 30, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Five Easy Pieces – 1970 – dir. Bob Rafelson

In Five Easy Pieces (dir. Bob Rafaelson, 1970) Robert Eroica Dupea, played by a young-ish Jack Nicholson, has “dropped out” by dropping down a couple of levels in the class structure.  Frustrated by the constraints of a serious classical music career, when we first meet him he is working on an oil rig, hanging out with his working class buddies at the bowling alley, and dating a diner waitress (Karen Black), in a thorough rejection of his upper class background and ideals.

June 30, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Nashville – 1975 – dir. Robert Altman

Set in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville (dir. Robert Altman, 1975) follows musicians, con artists, politicians, and weirdos as their lives overlap and intersect over the course of a fateful few days.  The film showcases Altman’s signature style of combining multiple story lines, noisy, overlapping dialogue, and realistic, scattered camera angles into a complex yet consistent narrative whole.  Considered by many to be Altman’s best film, it sashays between dialogue and song, the individual and the political, and humor and tragedy, without missing a beat.

June 30, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

The Last Picture Show – 1971 – dir. Peter Bogdanovich

The Last Picture Show (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) presents the enigma of the old western wrapped in the mystery of the new.  Set in the early 1960s in a windswept Texas town — the kind of small town that springs up on the way from somewhere to somewhere else — the story focuses on two high school seniors, Sonny and Duane, co-captains of a football team so monumentally inept that at one point they manage to lose 121 – 14.  The future they face seems as bleak as the empty streets in the town and the endless flat plains of the surrounding land.  They sense it as they stumble through the paces of late adolescence: girlfriends, jobs, uncertainty.