Bendjelloul, Bobin, Boone, Lee, Stiller

Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin, 2014). Once the cinematic franchise is revived, the next task is to prove it can be prolonged and maintained. Muppets Most Wanted is agreeable but oddly inconsequential. Lacking the fanboy passion that Jason Segel seemed to inject into The Muppets all by his lonesome, this new installment is drab and prone to drifting. The plot manages to evoke The Great Muppet Caper, the original Muppet sequel, while also playing around with a mistaken identity gimmick that takes full advantage of the pliability of the characters’ identity. Yes, it’s amusing at times, and the celebrity “guest stars” are … Continue reading Bendjelloul, Bobin, Boone, Lee, Stiller

Demme, Frears, Hooper, Lee, Wang

Swimming to Cambodia (Jonathan Demme, 1987). Jonathan Demme may not have been the best filmmaker of the nineteen-eighties, but I think there’s an argument to be made that he was the most interesting. This film is a good illustration of that point. It’s a film version of one of Spalding Gray’s monologues, a meandering but always focused act of storytelling that springs from his involvement in the film The Killing Fields. Gray’s approach was simplicity itself, sitting behind a small wooden table with his spiral notebook before him and little more than a couple of maps to help fill out … Continue reading Demme, Frears, Hooper, Lee, Wang

Top Fifty Films of the 90s — Number Fifteen

#15 — The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997) I should probably start by acknowledging that any film which uses an old issue of the Marvel Comics series The Fantastic Four to illustrate how dysfunction can envelop and cripple a family is playing directly to my soft spot. The idea is introduced via voiceover narration by the character Paul Carver as he sits on a stalled train bound for New Canaan, Connecticut. He goes to school in Manhattan, but it’s Thanksgiving weekend and he’s headed home, a place that’s held by a chill as deep as the one produced by the … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 90s — Number Fifteen

Top Fifty Films of the 90s — Number Forty-Six

#46 — Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee, 1995) At the time it seemed that, above all else, Sense and Sensibility proved that Emma Thompson could do anything. It was just three years earlier that she elbowed her way into debates intended to identify the finest actress of the era with her subtly inventive, Oscar-earning performance in James Ivory’s Howards End. She became quite busy after that, but still found time to expand which film jobs needed to included in her filmography by taking Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense Sensibility and skillfully adapting it into a screenplay. Through her effort, the … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 90s — Number Forty-Six

Top Fifty Films of the 00s — Number Thirteen

#13 — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) It is perhaps a marker of the diminished expectations of any film that is dominated and driven by action sequences that Ang Lee’s involvement in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon initially seemed perplexing. Lee had made his mark with films that were about conversations rather than fisticuffs, films that were deeply invested in character. Even the battle sequences and other violent skirmishes in the film he’d made immediately prior, the flawed but underrated Civil War drama Ride with the Devil, were entirely secondary to small focused scenes that examined how the characters … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 00s — Number Thirteen

Top Fifty Films of the 00s — Number Fourteen

#14 — Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) It is a love story, like a thousand movies than came before, and a thousand that will follow. It adheres to that most familiar of trajectories: two people meet, gradually fall into in one another’s arms, and face impediments to being together. There are two potential paths to the closing credits, one ending in bliss, the other in tragedy. Despite the familiarity, Brokeback Mountain is uniquely special. It’s not just that this romance is between two men, cowboys drawn to each other while charged with looking over a herd of sheep together on … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 00s — Number Fourteen