Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Pretty in Pink (1986)
!!destroy Jon Cryer!!
As a teenager, I was much more fond of John Hughes than I am now, thinking that there was some ultimate truth buried in THE BREAKFAST CLUB and its ilk. I rejected PRETTY IN PINK because the ending did not sit well with me.
These days I'm skeptical of Hughes' still-active cult and find BREAKFAST CLUB rather cloying, but some of his movies -- PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES, UNCLE BUCK, and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF -- still hold up, and I'd have to say that despite the undistinguished hand of director Howard Deutch, PRETTY IN PINK is blessed with Hughes' best and most knowing script.
The thing that appeals to me about it most is the father-daughter relationship between Harry Dean Stanton and Molly Ringwald; Hughes isn't afraid to make them troubled and not always completely sympathetic characters. As in some of his less teen-oriented scripts, he shows enough wisdom to lead one to wonder why on earth he ended up being associated primarily with movies like BABY'S DAY OUT and BEETHOVEN. In revolving the world of PRETTY IN PINK around the ugliness of class prejudice (maybe a bit exaggerated, I don't know because I went to a rural high school) and supplying it with strong characterizations, he's able to provide a high school comedy of considerable intelligence. It may not be as smart as FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH or, to fast-forward to the '90s, ELECTION, but it has substance to it.
Stanton supplies a great deal of this substance, as does Annie Potts in a memorable and oddly bittersweet turn. James Spader is hilarious as the evil rich kid, the flipside of his hypersensitive impotent geek in SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE a few years later. Most impressively, Andrew McCarthy turns a fairly underwritten character into a likable one that holds the movie together.
But (there's always a "but" in John Hughes' movies) the writer stumbles when expecting us to identify with the "nice guy" Duckie, played by Jon Cryer, an annoying and obsessive little creature, long best pals with semi-Cinderella girl Ringwald. He freaks out on her when he finds she's newly in love with, horror of horrors, a bourgeois-plus youth in a nice house. While it might be logical for someone with a long-held crush to be upset about this, it's irritating that we're "supposed" to feel sorry for him when he seems to feel that he owns the girl and that her attraction to another is somehow unfair to him. Mercifully, Hughes did not go with the obvious ending in which dork-gets-girl. McCarthy's character may be rich, but at least he's a real person -- not a leech -- who seems to have some respect for the central character.
As a story of rich-meets-poor making waves, this is a fine if slightly naive movie, richly entertaining, and it's aged surprisingly well. As a tale of the unrequited love of a geek who's actually a jerk (and not even a smart jerk), it's sleepy and frustrating. Nonetheless, it redeems itself and is more than worth seeing.
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
The reputation of this PINK PANTHER sequel is utterly justified. Not only is it the best of the Inspector Clouseau efforts, it's one of the funniest comedies of the '60s and is among Blake Edwards' finest achievements. That's to say nothing of Peter Sellers, who immediately after breaking ground with flawless turns in THE PINK PANTHER, DR. STRANGELOVE, and THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT gets a chance to have a movie all to himself, to exhibit his still-astonishing gifts for comic timing and spontaneous brilliance. My favorite Sellers performance remains his weird but remarkable Quilty in Stanley Kubrick's LOLITA, but when you want to see what the man was capable of, look no further than this.
In retrospect it's a bit odd how little this resembles the first film in the series, which was a bright, grandiose and funny old-fashioned caper picture in which the villain, David Niven, was the real hero and Peter Sellers' Clouseau just an amusing sideshow. That's also a wonderful movie, but this one operates with far less on the table, contending with what amounts to pure comedy -- though it does inherit the superb photography and peerless Mancini scoring of PANTHER -- and as a result, in part, of its minimalism it manages to achieve more.
All respect to David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, and Capucine, but A SHOT IN THE DARK also has a better cast than the original, with George Sanders -- always a treat -- sidesplitting as a stonefaced (!) suspect, Herbert Lom making his wild, over-the-top series debut as Clouseau's long-suffering boss (his performance is so endearing and bizarre he eventually got his own entry in the series, the very amusing THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES BACK). Only Robert Wagner is sorely missed.
Sellers aside, one of the reasons I think A SHOT IN THE DARK is so solid and stands with the original as the finest of this long series is that it actually has a strong story tying it together, coming from somewhat respectable source material. To that end, it shares a trait with DR. STRANGELOVE as a unique comedic subversion that alters the intention of its source. Of course, A SHOT IN THE DARK has none of the political and social implications of STRANGELOVE -- or even PINK PANTHER, which said some things about womanizing and the class system -- it's just good fun. Great fun, even.
There has to be some shrine somewhere for moments in movies that are so good they are almost chilling. It may seem odd to find something like that in SHOT, but to see the way Peter Sellers operates during his "investigative" moments is to witness the work of a real master. The entire film holds up to the standards of Sellers' exceptional work, which really says something.
The story of Blake Edwards' career from this point is of his frantically attempting to continue to, as before, forge territory in all genres without becoming known as Mr. Slapstick, but despite numerous fine efforts he ultimately failed; you can't really blame people for wanting to see as much of Clouseau as possible, even when the movie that surrounded him (in particular the third one, the extravagantly forgettable RETURN OF...) was of little worth except as a financial excuse for Edwards to get fine movies like 10, S.O.B., and VICTOR/VICTORIA made. For his part, he infuses the first two PANTHERs with his distinctive personality, but it's ashame in a way that he took something of a backseat later on, which is why it's nice to see a movie like this that feels like a genuine collaboration between two comic voices.
The Pink Panther (1963)
it wasn't easy
This is one of the cases in which saying a movie is very much "of its time" is a high compliment. To see THE PINK PANTHER today is to be transported to the stylish Blake Edwards '60s world of opulence, Mancini, and nutty but smart slapstick. The sequel A SHOT IN THE DARK may be funnier and more sophisticated, but PINK PANTHER is still a peerless, graceful treat, pure entertainment.
This doesn't really fit in that well with the rest of the series (of which I'm a big fan), but it's on a higher plane in a sense. Those seeking the usual slapstick fare will find plenty of it, not to mention an engagingly worldly edge lacking in the sequels. Not only is this a fine comedy, it's beautifully photographed and full of elegance. Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau is wonderful as always, but is neither the central character -- the jewel thief "The Phantom," played by David Niven, is the real protagonist -- or the source of the most laughs; Robert Wagner, the Phantom's nephew who shows up unexpected on the eve of a jewel binge, provides the movie with a force of sheer subversion. That's not to say the greatest moments aren't Clouseau's; particularly during the bedroom scenes with Capucine, Sellers is in top form.
An interesting note is the similarity of THE PINK PANTHER in many ways to Alfred Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF, made in 1955. The two films have more-than-similar story lines, and both are glitzy and glamorous, but the approach is different. PANTHER is a far less serious piece of work, yet in the end it has more substance, perhaps because it refuses to take jewel thievery with the stone-faced seriousness of its counterpart. Having said that, both are great fun, and what more could you want? There is simply so much to love about this movie it's hard to know where to begin. In the hopelessly romantic world Edwards and Mancini usually present, it's pleasant to see a darker and perhaps more vibrant edge shining through. BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S might be the quintessential Edwards film of the '60s, but it was released the same year as one of his best, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, a daring, violent, noirish outing that couldn't have been more different. In the layers of irony and comic wisdom of THE PINK PANTHER Edwards finds a middle ground, and it's savory.
Number Seventeen (1932)
another early, unnecessary detour for the Master
NUMBER SEVENTEEN is one of the very few films Alfred Hitchcock made that has aged poorly. It's bizarre to find a movie he made that doesn't improve on a second viewing; even JAMAICA INN and THE SKIN GAME get better the more you look at them. Here's an unfortunate exception. While it doesn't lack merit as a rollicking little caper, the story is too confusing for the film to be enjoyed, and surprisingly enough the direction is clumsy and the whole thing ends up rather incoherent.
There may be a reason for this. Hitchcock made this in a hurry to get to a project he was eager to work on, RICH AND STRANGE, one of his most offbeat and personal films (actually released before this one). As a result, this very short and very stagy little comedy/thriller feels like the work of someone who didn't really care. While this is something that rarely happens in his catalog as director, you can sense the same thing to a lesser extent in STAGE FRIGHT and THE SKIN GAME, yet the technical competence of the former and the fine source material and performances of the latter make those more fun and interesting to see than this.
The real crime here is witnessing the failure of one of Hitch's only stabs at an old-dark-house mystery; it's a severe disappointment that he didn't explore the potential of the story to a greater degree. NUMBER SEVENTEEN is locked into its time and doesn't have anything close to the resonance of BLACKMAIL. To a fan of the director, it's essential but a bit off-putting.
One good point is the closing chase sequence, which takes up a major chunk of the movie's second half (the total running time is only an hour). Despite the obvious use of miniatures, it's amusing to see the director play with buildup and action in an otherwise dismal effort.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
keys, plants, and impotence
If you've never seen this movie, you're in for quite a treat. Few chronicles of marital dysfunction are as lovably enigmatic and outright hilarious as this one, which is blessed with outstanding performances by Peter Gallagher, Andie Macdowell, James Spader, and Laura San Giacomo. The story itself is the picture of simplicity, but its sheer finesse, honesty, and almost noirish style make it more than just your everyday indie comedy/drama.
That's largely because of Steven Soderbergh's creative restlessness. In his debut he pulls every trick in the book to keep your emotions in check as you follow what initially seems to be a set of four wildly messed-up characters, then the puzzles all fall into place with numerous moments that will come back to you for some time afterward. There's haunting wisdom here about human nature and the way relationships work, but most of all the way they break down. That would mean nothing to me if the movie didn't have its quiet but delicious humor. That's what keeps it grounded and makes it -- in its own strange way -- so touching.
This extremely well-written and exquisitely directed little classic is a textbook example of the way character development ought to be delivered, with full conviction and not a series of pseudo-eccentric shortcuts, all wrapped in a movie that at the end of the day is just a lot of fun to watch, which I tend to believe is what movies should strive to be.
A Bug's Life (1998)
the real beginning of something
I saw A BUG'S LIFE after having already become a fan of the other five Pixars, and what struck me about it was the profound sophistication, subtlety, and sheer complexity of the storytelling. It may be the studio's least immediate film, but it grows with time thanks to what amounts to a kind of minimalism. It's less flashy and bombastic that any other cartoon feature I can remember; its dramatic peak arrives with the placement of a rock on the ground.
The SEVEN SAMURAI-inspired story couldn't be farther from the Andrew Lloyd Webberish monotony of the trite Disney features that have arrived in the last few years. A BUG'S LIFE dares to be intricate and unsentimental (a welcome characteristic in most of the Pixar features), and it becomes a sweeping epic with some light but cutting humor and a sense of journey that should make repeat viewings a treat even for the parents forced to sit through it over and over.
What's more, the voice acting is terrific, with an excellent performance by David Foley and a no-holds-barred, terrifying turn from Kevin Spacey, who is far closer to his SE7EN character than to K-PAX world in this G-rated film. I haven't even mentioned the animation, which in a world of fast-moving technical advancement at this studio and everywhere still looks astounding seven years later.
All the Pixar movies are surprising, but A BUG'S LIFE has a creative spark that completely blindsides the viewer. The plotty bits can drag slightly, especially those involving the circus crew, usually far less interesting than the lead character and villain, but no matter. These vivid characters and an absorbing story make for almost peerless entertainment.
The Incredibles (2004)
The only thing that prevents THE INCREDIBLES from being the movie of the decade is the fact that Pixar or Brad Bird will inevitably top it within the next five years. This movie is a triumph on all fronts; it's so absorbing you hardly notice the flawless animation, which is nonetheless stunning. Almost a century of cartoons have led up to a moment of this kind of sophistication. The movie works, however, because it overwhelms its medium. It may be the CITIZEN KANE of toons. I waited for this movie over a long period of time and expected it to be absolutely grand. I still feel that I underestimated it.
Bird is more than likely the finest director working in animation today, and he's got some stiff competition. On his first feature, THE IRON GIANT, he fused a larger-than-life fantasy story and all the streamlined beauty that came with it into a human drama that could invite both wonder and tears.
Meanwhile, Pixar has become not only the finest animation studio to exist since the peaks of Disney and Warners but almost a modern Selznick International -- a mark of quality recognized like few other production companies, to the point that the Pixar label now probably means as much as (if not more than) the Disney logo on all their product. The Pixar touch is wide-ranging; they've done perfect comedy in TOY STORY and MONSTERS INC. and offered a brilliant adventure film with A BUG'S LIFE. They are best exemplified by Andrew Stanton's FINDING NEMO, a celebrated feature that brought wide-eyed wonder back to the multiplexes.
Combine Bird with Pixar and you knew you had a must-see picture. The shocker is just how far Bird carried the studio, and vice versa. Dreamworks, Fox, and Disney's in-house animators are right to live in fear. Not only is this movie the most monstrously entertaining thing to come along in ages, not only does it treat its audience with respect while still commanding awe, it takes a million risks and gets away with it because of its intelligence, conviction, and good humor. The cold emptiness in Bob's eyes when he holds Mirage by her neck after he's been crushed by what he thinks is an inconceivable loss... we've never seen this in a cartoon (at least, an American cartoon) before, and we've never really seen it done with such subtlety and excitement anywhere.
As in THE IRON GIANT, Bird tells a big story -- superheroes making a comeback -- then throws us into the human element, with some highly adult scenes and a comic wisdom that never, EVER stoops to the "faux-hip" humor common in other animated features. It's a movie with an underlying seriousness about its own craft. The comedy is knowing and warm, the drama intense and involving, the action as riveting as you'll ever see in any live action film. All of its ingredients have been enlivened with a sense of beauty and charm that spit in the eye of the prospect that cartoons don't matter. All that matters is brilliant storytelling and movie-making, and THE INCREDIBLES is the real thing. Pixar and Bird have another classic on their hands -- easily their best to date -- that one-ups nearly every other animated feature made so far. Long live them both.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
expansive and poignant
Pixar's brilliant TOY STORY 2 is not merely an unusually good sequel, an exceptionally good cartoon, or a great movie, it's a genuine thrill... one of those moments when regardless of your age or experience, you may be caught utterly off-guard.
John Lasseter had already defined himself as one of the great animation directors with the amusing TOY STORY and superior A BUG'S LIFE, but here he outdoes himself with a thoroughly absorbing and extremely clever film that doubles as a powerhouse of strong writing and characterization. Other than "The Simpsons," when before has a cartoon explored such rich emotional territory with such subtlety and so little pandering? The concerns of this film are universal, with appeal that crosses the boundaries of age, something so-called "family films" with their pseudo-hip humor and dumbed-down dramatics rarely do anymore.
TOY STORY was a fun movie and a technically astonishing one, but it couldn't shake the veneer of an Event Picture for the movie-brat set, and its depth was somewhat confined, at least in comparison to the five subsequent Pixar efforts, all of which have surpassed it. What's so impressive about the sequel is how much it stands on its own, and the fact that it explores every conceivable avenue of its story. Even the basic plot line is brilliant -- broken toy Woody is left behind and turns out to be a collectible, cherished by cynical fatso Al of Al's Toy Barn.
That the Pixar crew could craft something entertaining out of this is no shocker. A BUG'S LIFE was also leaps and bounds above their feature debut, full of setpieces and performances on a par with classic Disney material. But TOY STORY 2 one-ups basically everything that came out of feature animation in the preceding ten years (possible exceptions, at least from the U.S., are limited to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE IRON GIANT). It has a spark, an energy, an enthusiasm and assurance, ingredients that have become precious.
It seems as if this purely joyous movie marked the point when Pixar went from the cool little CG place out west to the legit ground-zero of Quality Cartoons. If I had to pinpoint the moment when I became convinced, it would be the "When She Loved Me" scene. I have always admired Pixar's resistance to feature-animation conventions, particularly musical sequences, and this deeply sincere bit exemplifies their own devotion to storytelling. In weaker hands it could have easily been maudlin, sappy and irritating. It never breaks that line and yet it's still extraordinarily sad and somehow real. When you can get that out of an inanimate object's emotional distress, you're witnessing some kind of remarkable talent.
The Ice Storm (1997)
Ang Lee followed up his exquisite SENSE AND SENSIBILITY with an even more impressive film, THE ICE STORM, also a comedy about social behavior and the resulting chasms but one ultimately driven by misery and stunted by tragedy.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY was infused with a wisdom that came from cynicism; Jane Austen's story is essentially about a balancing act between happiness and responsibility and the strange way the two things intertwine. THE ICE STORM is a much more literal evocation of that theme. It follows a pair of Boomer couples living with their children in the '70s, that infamous shadow of their own social awakening.
In the aftermath of the sexual revolution, we find the occupants of the film bored out of their minds with one another and life itself (recalling an assertion by MAD magazine about revolutions taking all the fun out of sex). Kevin Kline in particular appears to be turning into something we infer he must have hated at one time. Joan Allen, playing his wife (and brilliant as usual), is clawing at the universe trying desperately for some kind of escape. Sigourney Weaver, his mistress, is THE GRADUATE's Mrs. Robinson and therefore its Benjamin Braddock by extension -- bored, wise, and lost all at the same time. Their kids are being neglected and haunted by the distance that has developed between them and their families; they are forced into a kind of growth for which their parents never bothered to prepare them, and worse yet, they know it.
The couples' idea of liberation has led to their decadence, but it's important to note that THE ICE STORM is not a preachy, moralistic movie. Its insistence is not that sexual awareness and honesty are bad but simply that the real life that inevitably comes knocking cannot be ignored. The world is ripped away because no one has been paying attention, and superficial ideas of need have replaced genuine purpose. At the end, Kevin Kline cries tears not necessarily of desperation or loss -- though these ingredients undoubtedly contribute -- but of joy, because he has realized, and it isn't too late.
Brilliant performances all around from a now-all-star cast. Of special note is Christina Ricci; this may be her best work as she projects not just her usual cool candor but also a naiveté that warms the blood of her character. Tobey Maguire is also outstanding.
While this has become one of my favorites of the last ten years, it is a difficult movie in some ways and it may take a while to appreciate, but don't miss it, and try and tell me you don't feel the cold air at the finale.
a wonderful, horrible triumph
FREAKS is glorious. It works as a startling horror story that will torment you forever, but it's also a wickedly amusing delight; perhaps the reason the film is so scary is the fact that you find yourself cheering for the gruesome outcome. It's not a movie about the creeping unknown; it's about humanity at its highest and lowest levels. The circus freaks are charming and good-natured, the other folks ghastly, mean-spirited animals, and ultimately the underdog has the last laugh in the face of horrible manipulation with another very human desire: ultimate revenge.
The dramatic stakes are raised almost to the breaking point with Olga Baclanova's performance as Cleopatra and her smirking, almost cartoonish conceit, thrown into the ring with the blind terrors of innocent acceptance. Her lie has been absorbed as a truth, and eventually she must pay for her violent, greedy deception in a way so right it's nearly painful.
This is not merely a thriller with a difference but a classical drama with every scene a standout and every emotion deeply felt. Performances are grand, particularly by the highly gifted "freaks" (many of whom unfortunately never acted again), the writing nearly flawless, the atmosphere oppressive but appropriate. The ultimate thrill of the finale -- simultaneously a happy ending and a nightmare brought to excruciating (to this day) life -- is as potent an emotion as you're ever likely to get from a movie. This is storytelling at its best. Bravo to Mr. Browning and his cast.