Bird, Coon and Skousen, Garrone, Huston, Paradisi

Tomorrowland (Brad Bird, 2015). There’s nobility in Brad Bird’s oft-stated aspiration to use Tomorrowland to reanimate the futuristic optimism of his youth, countering the long meander into an endless procession of sci-fi dystopias. Intent is one thing. Execution is quite another. Bird’s second outing as a director of live-action features is a muddled, overbearing squawk of condescending nonsense that too often barrels headlong into disastrous inane storytelling choices. As a grizzled, grumpy outcast of a once-proud secret nation of innovators, George Clooney is in the mode of hammy, insistent twitches that rightly earned him derision when he made his initial … Continue reading Bird, Coon and Skousen, Garrone, Huston, Paradisi

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Nine

#9 — The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) I find it weirdly wonderful that one of the greatest films about the corrosive greed at the core of the United States identity doesn’t take place within the nation’s borders at all. Instead, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre finds broken citizens scuffling around within a northern neighbor, looking to make their fortunes by yanking out some of the gold they just know is up in them thar Mexican hills. The story artfully explores basic human emotions that range across vast swaths of people in very different cultures, but it … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Nine

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Forty-One

#41 — Key Largo (John Huston, 1948) I typically put John Huston in the category of classic Hollywood directors whose excellence is best measured by their absolutely command of craft. As the vocabulary of classic narrative was still being shaped, Huston was one of those in the cinematic blacksmith shop, swinging his mallet at the glowing red steel. Unlike some of his immediate predecessors (and rough contemporaries) on this timeline — John Ford and Howard Hawks are the two who immediately come to mind — Huston embedded a slightly shiftier personality into his art. He had a flair for the torrid that … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Forty-One

Ford, Hancock, Huston, McDonagh, Robespierre

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948). Huston’s famed exploration of greed tainting a slapdash partnership of aspiration gold miners in the Mexican mountains is so deviously ingenious that the director booming cackle virtually echoes through the most feverish scenes. The best Tim Holt can do as the most upstanding, straightforward member of the trio is stay upright against the buffeting winds of Humphrey Bogart, all sweaty paranoia and flash fire intensity, and Walter Huston, delivering a just Oscar-awarded turn as the weather-beaten old-timer whose the one member of the party who’s not a neophyte. The film is … Continue reading Ford, Hancock, Huston, McDonagh, Robespierre

Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Twenty

#20 — The African Queen (John Huston, 1951) There are gateway films for everyone, those features that unlock something inside that inspires a previously absent appreciation for, say, foreign cinema or art house fare. I can’t actually pinpoint what opened most of those doors for me, but I’m fairly certain I know the first film that made me open my eyes to the vast wonders to be found in classic cinema. Like a lot of young people, I suspect, I found any movie that had a copyright date too much before my birth year to be a little musty and … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Twenty

Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Thirty-Four

#34 — The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950) It’s all right there in the name of the film: the promise of soot and grit and anger, the heat of savagery played out on pavement, the hardness of untamed wild disguised as urban civilization. There are few cinematic titles as instantly evocative of of the bleak storytelling to which it is affixed. The Asphalt Jungle technically conveys nothing of the film’s plot, its characters, its timeframe. Hell, it takes some imagination to tie the title to the film’s setting. And yet it carries forward everything that the film is about, all … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Thirty-Four

Carax, Davies, Godard, Huston, Lord and Miller

21 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2012). This adaptation of the ludicrous nineteen-eighties television series about cops undercover in high school (one of the first hits for the Fox network) was met with surprising appreciation by the critical community when it was released last spring. I can certainly understand why its metafictional comedy may have been a welcome surprise, but it’s still more ragged and predictable than it is shrewd and effective. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have nice interplay as the requisite mismatched cops working together, and there’s something refreshing about the inversion of stereotypes, with the … Continue reading Carax, Davies, Godard, Huston, Lord and Miller

Bernhardt, Bicquet, Donen, Huston, Pakula

Two for the Road (Stanley Donen, 1967). This comic drama about the evolution of a marriage, with particular focus on the sharp degradation it experiences, is playful with its chronology in a way that must have been completely novel at the time of the film’s release. Now, it’s a more familiar cinematic approach, which doesn’t make Two for the Road terribly ineffective, though it does undercut some of the sillier moments that were presumably inserted to make the film easier to grasp a hold of for perplexed audiences. Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney are both terrific as they play the … Continue reading Bernhardt, Bicquet, Donen, Huston, Pakula