Maradona & Child: ‘The Hand Of God’

Paolo Sorrentino won 2013’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for the appropriately titled La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), a dazzling drama about a writer and socialite in Rome entering the final act of his privileged life. He’s in a strong position to claim the award a second time for this year’s The Hand Of God, which takes place in Naples and concerns an artist in the first act, rather than the final act, of his life.

The Hand Of God is a coming-of-age story of sorts, but not one that’s concerned with youthful romance or teenage troublemaking. Fabietto has unconventional friendships and an eyebrow-raising sexual dalliance, along with other misadventures, but ultimately, it’s the story of a boy becoming not just a man, but an artist, semi-autobiographically rooted in Sorrentino’s own teenage years in Naples.

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Strong & Silent: ‘The Power Of The Dog’

The stoic cowboy is, perhaps, the most stalwart hero trope we’ve ever had in the movies. Detectives have always been hard-boiled, soldiers are often racked with guilt and trauma, cops frequently cross over to the wrong side of the law, but the cowboy protagonist has rarely been less than noble. Even revisionist Westerns like Unforgiven and The Assassination Of Jesse James depict the violent outlaws at their center as possessing a moral compass, living by a certain code of conduct that we view as noble and honest, under the circumstances. The cowboy hero may not be perfect, but there’s always a bad guy who’s much worse. Continue reading “Strong & Silent: ‘The Power Of The Dog’”

He Said, He Said (& What She Tried To Say): ‘The Last Duel’

What we know of history has been written almost exclusively by men, especially when you go as far back as the Middle Ages. Every man who ever made a record of the past had his biases, and if you multiply that by the thousands of men who’ve had their say over time, you have to wonder how skewed every “true” history we’ve ever heard is, and consider the possibility that everything we know about our roots is a few degrees off from the way it really happened. What we know of history truly is history. The Last Duel purports to be her story, for a change.

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“There Is No Dana, Only Zuul” (#97)

It’s about time we got around to Ghostbusters on the podcast. Ivan Reitman’s supernatural sensation is the granddaddy of the fantasy-action-comedy blockbuster, creating the formula that family-friendly genre pics are still using to this day.

1983’s top grossing films consisted largely of adult-oriented fare — Tootsie, Flashdance, Risky Business, Trading Places, Mr. Mom. Return Of The Jedi is the only film in the top ten not grounded in some semblance of reality. Then, in 1984, Ghostbusters made a killing, dominating the year’s box office — a couple slots above a nastier horror-comedy (Gremlins). Slowly but surely, the way was paved for other big movies to mix the macabre with comedy and eye-popping special effects. Without Ghostbusters, the world would probably never get The Addams Family or Men In Black (both previously covered on the podcast). Continue reading ““There Is No Dana, Only Zuul” (#97)”

I, Tammy: ‘The Eyes Of Tammy Faye’

There’s at least one every year. The film that makes me act as the Lonely Defender, a film I like — perhaps unreasonably — more than just about everyone else. Sometimes, it’s a messy film; perhaps its reach exceeds its grasp. Often, it has big things to say about America, or Our Times, or even humanity at large. Always, it’s a film with a surprise inside, something I wasn’t expecting.

Michael Showalter’s The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is this year’s I, Tonya — a film about a female who’s been savaged in the press, rightly or wrongly, for her involvement in crimes that were more directly perpetrated by men. Like I, Tonya, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye is sympathetic to the controversial woman at its center (though in this case, it’s a little easier to buy that Tammy Faye really didn’t have any idea what the hell her husband was up to). As in I, Tonya, iconic costumes are immaculately recreated, and the film jets through history at quite a clip, starting with a precocious young girl’s big dreams in a bleak upbringing. There’s a tough-love mother, played here by Cherry Jones, who at first seems like she could be just as vicious as Allison Janney’s scene-stealing turn mama LaVona in I, Tonya. (Turns out, she’s not.) There’s a whirlwind romance with a too-good-to-be-true young fellow who will be her undoing. (Here, that’s Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker.) There are musical numbers — though, naturally, instead of ice skating routines, we get Tammy Faye belting her heart out for Jesus (and Benjamin Franklin) on national television. As in I, Tonya, the crimes committed are more of an afterthought to the fun these characters had while perpetrating them, and the way they set the dominos up to topple over into tragedy for our (anti-?)heroine. Continue reading “I, Tammy: ‘The Eyes Of Tammy Faye’”

“Draw A Crazy Picture, Write A Nutty Poem” (#96)

If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a magic bean buyer, or you just hate doing dishes and taking the garbage out, you’ll surely find something to relate to in our latest episode on celebrated author, illustrator, poet, and all-around Renaissance Man Shel Silverstein.

Though Where The Sidewalk Ends was first published in 1974, long before we were even born, Silverstein’s groundbreaking poetry collection was a staple in classrooms, on library shelves, and at bedtime throughout our childhoods, along with later volumes A Light In The Attic (1982) and Falling Up (1996).

Award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman joins us for a look at how writing for young readers has changed in the decades since we were young readers ourselves. Then we discuss Shel Silverstein’s salacious origins (far outside the realm of children’s fiction) and have a heated debate about what Silverstein’s massively popular children’s book The Giving Tree is really about. Finally, we dive back into Silverstein’s poetry to share which works still strike a chord with us now.

Revisit Hungry Kid Island, get reacquainted with Ridiculous Rose, and fire up the Homework Machine one last time, because we’ve got some flax golden tales to spin in this episode!

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“He Can’t See Without His Glasses” (#95)

My Girl is something of an anomaly as a feature film. It sits right on the border between family film and adult-oriented coming-of-age tale. It’s a PG-rated film that’s entirely about death. It contains the line “flesh all amesh,” which is not the sort of dialogue you hear spoken in The Pagemaster or Gold Diggers: The Secret Of Bear Mountain. It has a fresh, frank attitude toward adolescence, one that evokes nostalgia for simpler times without any obvious pandering to yesteryear. And just as the movie sits somewhat awkwardly on the border between family fare and grownup drama, it explores the uncomfortable moment when childhood gives way to the teen age, when we start to grasp the cruel realities of impending adulthood. Continue reading ““He Can’t See Without His Glasses” (#95)”

Taken, Seriously: ‘Stillwater’

Is Stillwater an American movie trapped inside a French film, or a French film stuck inside an American movie?

Tom McCarthy’s first adult-oriented feature since Spotlight is quite a ride. At times it rushes forward at the speed of a tense international thriller. In other moments, it moves at the lackadaisical pace of a French dramedy. It’s a Taken film that’s actually taken seriously, posing the question: what would happen if the average American dad really did travel to Europe to try and rescue his daughter? And what if he was like most Americans, unable to speak a foreign language? Imagine Taken if 45 minutes in the middle were excised and replaced with 45 minutes of Jacques Audiard’s Rust And Bone, and that’s a rough approximation of what you’re in for here.

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“Okay To Go” (#94)

In 1997, Contact was something of an anomaly — the “hmm…” to Independence Day‘s “wow!” It was cerebral and character-driven, but released in the midst of summer blockbuster season, just one week after Men In Black had blessed the 4th of July with its second Will Smith-starring extraterrestrial-themed smash hit in a row. Contact cost $90 million and was helmed by a man who already had seven movies that had grossed over $100 million each under his belt. His previous film, Forrest Gump, not only outperformed all his more conventional blockbusters, raking in nearly $700 million worldwide, but also won a slew of Oscars including Best Picture.

Zemeckis’ thoughtful sci-fi opus did respectable business, but it wasn’t stellar. Audiences didn’t know quite what to do with a film that looked and sounded like a blockbuster, but felt like a prestige drama, with complex scientific jargon, a central thematic debate between God and science, multiple grounded and empathetic characters, and so much talking. The Oscars didn’t know what to do with it, either, nominating it for only one award — Best Sound — which it naturally lost to the juggernaut Titanic. Jodie Foster was snubbed in favor of long-forgotten turns by Helena Bonham Carter in The Wings Of The Dove and Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown.

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“Now That’s What I Call A Close Encounter” (#93)

In the mid-90s, multiplexes were invaded by an influx of movies centered on mankind’s first contact with extraterrestrials. And unlike the cute and friendly aliens we got to know in the 80s, like E.T. and ALF, the space invaders of the 90s mostly just wanted to annihilate us, starting with our favorite tourist destinations.

Part One of our Alien Invasion Blockbuster Extravaganza looks at two of the deadliest interstellar assaults to ever breach the silver screen, both celebrating their 25th anniversaries this year.

First up, we celebrate the 4th of July in the most American way possible — with mass casualties, tons of military hardware, a bombastic presidential speech, and a stripper! Roland Emmerich’s record-smashing Independence Day (1996) raised the bar for special effects-loaded summer entertainment, redefining the blockbuster with its cataclysmic destruction of U.S. landmarks (a popcorn movie hallmark ever since).

Next, we attempt to shield ourselves from Tim Burton’s outrageous sci-fi send-up Mars Attacks! (1996), with a cast so star-studded that it stars Jack Nicholson twice! The wacky comedy had just as much death and destruction as Independence Day, but came in for a crash landing when it opened in theaters, and has been largely forgotten since.

Which of these uncomfortably close encounters holds up better now that we’re viewing them from a distance? Do we prefer President Pullman to President Nicholson? A dog that outruns an explosion, or a Chihuahua with Sarah Jessica Parker’s body? Will Smith’s fresh quips, or ack-ack-ack-ack? Get answers to these and other probing questions in a podcast that’s truly out of this world! Continue reading ““Now That’s What I Call A Close Encounter” (#93)”