Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Christopher Robin (2018)
My favorite polite British bear is Paddington Brown, but this movie makes a pretty good case for the appeal and wobbly wisdom of Winnie the Pooh. He’s voiced in a great performance by longtime voice actor Jim Cummings, who also voiced Pooh in many cartoons since 1988. But this film is not about him. Instead, it’s about a grown-up Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred-Acre-Wood to recapture his childlike sense of wonder and remember what is most important in life. Indie stalwart and friend of IU Cinema Alex Ross Perry’s script is excellent, and Ewan McGregor does a typically great job as the titular character. Plus it’s got Brad Garrett doing his mopey best as Eeyore (one of my favorite moments in the film is the only time Eeyore smiles). If you liked Winnie the Pooh as a child, or just want a reminder of the importance of fun in adult life, check this movie out.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Tully (2018)
Postpartum depression is a complicated issue. It’s also underdiagnosed and rarely depicted in film. Many examples of maternal mental health onscreen come from the horror genre, where monsters serve as metaphors for inner struggles. The monster literalizes what many women don’t feel they can express.
As a dramedy, Tully falls far outside the horror genre, but like films like The Babadook, Tully uses a character (in this case, the enigmatic night nanny, played by Mackenzie Davis) as a personification of what mom-of-three Marlo (Charlize Theron) can’t express to her husband, children, or brother.
The film generated a lot of controversy, even before it was released, from people who felt that it mischaracterized postpartum depression and that it should have depicted Marlo’s diagnosis and treatment process. However, I’m inclined to empathize with the film’s writer, Diablo Cody, who defended the film by saying that Marlo and her son’s lack of diagnosis is exactly the point. We don’t always tell stories to depict a perfect world. Sometimes we tell stories to depict the confusing, flawed, but very human world we live in.
Caleb Allison, contributor | Outland (1981)
Sean Connery. Sci-fi western. Drug smuggling. These elements shouldn’t fit together. How can they? And yet, writer-director Peter Hyams, generously riding the coattails of Alien (1979), concocts a tense, claustrophobic, and visually impressive genre mix-up with 1981’s Outland.
Connery plays Bill O’Niel, a newly assigned federal marshal on Io (Eye-oh), Jupiter’s third moon, charged with keeping law and order at a mining facility. An illegal and supercharged amphetamine is being smuggled in, causing productivity and profits to soar with a minor side effect – psychosis followed inevitably by death. In steps the straight-shooting, tight-lipped Connery to bring down the drug ring at all familial and self-preserving costs.
Endearingly dubbed “High Moon” for its similarities to High Noon (1952), Connery’s swagger and plight might just as well put him at the American Frontier as one of Jupiter’s moons. One of my favorite scenes reminiscent of its western influences takes place between Connery and his estranged wife Carol (Kika Markham), who’s just left him, tired of their transient lifestyle:
Carol O’Niel: You’re a stubborn son of a bitch.
Bill O’Niel: Yes.
Carol: Something’s wrong there, isn’t it?
Carol: I know you’re in some kind of trouble. When you start speaking in sentences of less than two words you’re in trouble, I know it.
Bill: I’m okay.
As Connery seemed to be floundering for a substantial role after his last Bond outing in 1971, Outland finally gave him some traction. Stripped of his neatly trimmed tuxedos and suave pretention Hyams creates a gruff, space frontiersman we can stand behind. The film also boasts some stellar visual effects and production design, as well as one of the greatest foot chase sequences in all of cinema. If you like sci-fi and westerns and police procedurals and Connery, then it doesn’t get much better than Outland.
(For a closer look at how Alien influenced Outland look no further than their title sequences: Outland and Alien.)
David Carter, contributor | Blade (1998); Hulk (2003); Constantine (2005)
Through some confluence of events, podcasts and just moving into a new place, I have been taking a stroll down memory lane and revisiting the superhero cinema of the late ’90s and ’00s, what I call the “Silver Age” of superhero movies, which is after the “Golden Age” of Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman films and before the “Bronze/Modern Age” of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and Disney dominance. It was the time when the Gen X’ers who grew up reading comic books of the ’80s and ’90s were getting catered to and movie studios truly didn’t know what to do with these superhero properties they either owned outright (like Warner Bros. did) or had bought from a struggling Marvel Comics. So they put interesting directors behind the camera and let them sort out the vision since these weren’t expected to make a billion dollars every outing. In short: it was paradise.
During this period directors and writers were more concerned with making good movies that happen to have godlike abilities or a pulpy mythos. The three I watched this month stand out as misfits during this period. Stephen Norrington’s Blade kicked off this age of darker heroics with the first black Marvel hero onscreen and a goth-club-kid-meets-martial-arts aesthetic that pre-dates The Matrix by a year. Francis Lawrence’s Constantine feels like a hidden gem at this point. The film is a big homage to Raymond Chandler with a moody look and a crusty Keanu Reeves. My absolute favorite of these is Ang Lee’s Hulk, arguably the most maligned tights-and-fights flick during its time but to me has grown into the absolute apex of what a superhero movie can be if you completely take the reins off the director (they’ll make a quiet Freudian drama about fraternal issues featuring visual elements pulled right out of a comic panel and a showstopping performance by Nick Nolte).
I think as superhero movies become more commerce than art, it’s fun to go back and look at what the previous decade had to offer to see how much has changed and how different these movies feel now.
Click on each title to see their respective trailer: Blade; Hulk; Constantine.
Michaela Owens, editor | Thrill of a Romance (1945)
One of the most overlooked screen teams, Van Johnson and Esther Williams personified clean-cut, rosy-cheeked, all-American values. Onscreen, they were a devastatingly gorgeous couple who knew how to trade barbed witticisms, longing looks, and charming declarations of love. Offscreen, they were good friends who loved collaborating. Together, they created a small, forgotten legacy of feel-good films that I’m pretty sure doctors could actually recommend for whatever ails you.
While I genuinely love all of their movies, I will always treasure Thrill of a Romance the most. There are many reasons why — it was my first Esther Williams film; the Technicolor is blindingly beautiful; the music is lovely (even if opera star Lauritz Melchior sings a tad too much) — but the main reason is that until I saw Thrill of a Romance, I thought the best cinema had to be the work of auteurs like Howard Hawks or Alfred Hitchcock. After 105 minutes of watching Williams and Johnson slowly, tenderly fall in love, I realized I was wrong. Their characters’ relationship and the way they played scenes together was so natural and so pure, and the camera’s attention to them felt intimate. Their candy-colored world was dreamy, yet tinged with melancholy as profound feelings went unsaid and hearts broke. The ending’s delightful absurdity is more than earned, as Johnson and Williams collapse in each other’s arms, providing three shots that bring me unspeakable joy every time:
Click here to check out the trailer.