BIG FISH

By Jared M. Gordon

Big Fish – 2003 – dir. Tim Burton

Tim Burton’s Big Fish is an homage to everything that we were, everything that we are, and everything that we will be.  What really bakes your noodle is the reveal that it’s all happening, every moment, all at once.

Based on the novel by mythology enthusiast Daniel Wallace (watch for a cameo of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces on Ed Bloom’s nightstand), Big Fish is a tale about everything big in our lives: the worlds of our childhood, the worlds of being in love, and the worlds of responsibility, maturity, death, and beyond.

Continue reading

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

By Peggy Nelson

It’s A Wonderful Life – 1946 – dir. Frank Capra

Recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra, 1946) has been variously described as a heartwarming celebration of family values, an historical appreciation of vanished small-town life, “sentimental hogwash,” an indictment of centralized banking, and a communist manifesto.  It is all of these things.  And yet, it is also something more.

Continue reading

THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN

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.
Continue reading

Good Nightmare: CORALINE

By Jared M. Gordon

Coraline – 2009 – dir. Henry Selnick

“You probably think this world is a dream come true… but you’re wrong.”

From the minds of Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods), with musical accompaniment by They Might Be Giants comes Coraline, a dark, enchanting fable about the worlds we see and the worlds we want.

Continue reading

THE WIZARD OF OZ: A Grown-up Perspective on “Over the Rainbow”

By Victoria Large

Is there a film more famous than The Wizard of Oz? There are films with loftier reputations, yes: as impressive an achievement as it truly is, The Wizard of Oz is still written off as kids’ stuff on occasion. But what other film has embedded itself so firmly in our culture? It’s a reference that most everyone picks up and the one Old Hollywood classic that nearly everyone has seen (and, until recently, one of the few being broadcast on network television in primetime). It’s been remade and spun-off in all manner of ways, 0from a television version populated by the Muppets to the misbegotten disco epic The Wiz, to surprisingly bleak incarnations like the eighties semi-sequel Return to Oz and the Sci-Fi Channel’s recent Tin Man miniseries. It crops up even in unexpected places: as a key reference point in anxiety-ridden fair like After Hours and Blue Velvet, and a throwaway line in Reservoir Dogs’ infamous torture scene (“How’s about a little fire, Scarecrow?”). Heck, Richard O’ Brien originally wanted The Rocky Horror Picture Show to imitate The Wizard of Oz’s iconic – and still breathtaking – leap from black-and-white to color. The film is also a merchandizing perennial, the inspiration for a booming cottage industry of hand-numbered music boxes and collector’s plates.
Continue reading

Rachel Thibault on the Enduring Cult of The Princess Bride

The-Princess-Bride

 

By Rachel Thibault

More than any other genre in the ’80s, the fantasy/adventure film dominated. Broadly defined, these films ranged from the glossy blockbuster films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) to mainstream, postmodern comedies with sequels (BACK TO THE FUTURE, GHOSTBUSTERS), to the creature-features aimed at children (GOONIES, GREMLINS) and beyond to the absurd, futuristic, and often unclassifiable (BRAZIL, ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI). Although many fantasy films of the ’80s were marketed to young people between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine, a demographic that made up 75% of the movie-going audience, many films appealed to both children and adults, hoping to find the “kid in all of us.”  Continue reading

Page to Screen: Victoria Large on adapting The Princess Bride

Rob Reiner’s 1987 film The Princess Bride represents that most remarkable of rarities: an excellent movie based on an excellent book. Typically the handling of a fine book is fumbled en route to the silver screen, and on a few rare occasions the film is a marked improvement. But in the case of The Princess Bride, both William Goldman’s 1973 book and Reiner’s film offer an easily loveable, engaging adventure story with a brightly funny, smartly satiric bent. It certainly must have helped that Goldman – who wrote the book in response to his two daughters, one requesting a story about a princess, the other a bride – happens to be a well-established screenwriter, and adapted his own novel for the screen. And it couldn’t have hurt that all of the casting is spot-on. As The Princess Bride’s hero Westley, Cary Elwes doesn’t only look the part (with, as the novel specifies, “pale blonde hair” and “eyes like the sea after a storm”), but also possesses the wit and bravado essential to bringing the character to life. Then-newcomer Robin Wright shines as Princess Buttercup, imbuing the character with a noble bearing that few other young actresses could and sharing considerable chemistry with Elwes; and there are fine turns by Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, and others in supporting roles. As the giant Fezzik, Andre the Giant was literally the best person on earth for his role. Continue reading

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal

By Victoria Large

When sitting down to watch The Dark Crystal, a labor of love directed by legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and his frequent collaborator Frank Oz, you know you’re in for something unique in the truest sense of the word: not merely unusual, but one-of-a-kind. There really hasn’t been another film quite like it before or since. A “digitally enhanced” sequel titled The Power of the Dark Crystal is rumored to be in the works, but even that film won’t match its predecessor for sheer daring and ambition. Released in 1982 after being in production for five years, The Dark Crystal was conceptualized by Henson and British artist Brian Froud as the first live action film to feature only puppets and not a single human actor. This was a dream project for Henson, an attempt to explore new territory and push his art further. Continue reading

Navigating Ambiguity in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

By Victoria Large

“Times of transition are always magic,” the late Jim Henson is quoted as saying in Jim Henson: The Works, a hefty coffee table book chronicling the career of the visionary creator of the Muppets. “Twilight is a magic time and dawn is magic – the times during which it’s not day and it’s not night but something in between. Also the time between sleeping and dreaming. There are a lot of mystical qualities to that, and to me this is what the film is about.” Henson was referring to Labyrinth, the 1986 film that he described as being “about a person at the point of changing from being a child to being a woman.” Labyrinth indeed falls into a tradition of coming of age stories that straddle the line between the real and the fantastic, from family- friendly fare like the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz (one of Henson’s inspirations), to Neil Jordan’s grownup 1984 horror film In The Company of Wolves. It makes sense that this is so. Adolescence is certainly a liminal time in one’s life: neither childhood nor adulthood but a confusing in-between, and a film like Labyrinth populated by fantastic characters and possessed of an uncertain sense of time, place, and space perhaps more aptly conveys the outsized anxieties of adolescence than many realist films about young adults. Continue reading

The Muppet Movie

By Jason Haas

The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving “look-at-me” filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of one’s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TV’s The Muppet Show. Continue reading