I have not been a fan of director Baz Luhrmann from day one. I was completely underwhelmed by Strictly Ballroom; managed to miss his take on Romeo and Juliet; and his epic Valentine to his home country, Australia, was as turgid and unwatchable as just about anything can be. Until I got to Moulin Rouge, which was thoroughly annoying to the point it was one of the few films that had me heading to the exit long before it was over. Needless to say, that track record had me anticipating The Great Gatsby with the same joy as a day at the dentist. Imagine my surprise when I watched the entire film without a twitch, or a fidget, or a glance at the time. I really liked it.
In his third feature film, Mud, writer-director Jeff Nichols has delivered a stirring coming of age tale that’s part Stand by Me, part Hickleberry Finn, and part William Faulkner. If it had been made in the mid-fifties, I can imagine a young Paul Newman as the title character. As it is, Matthew McConaughey, who keeps adding to his acting laurels with each chosen role, plays Mud. From Bernie to Killer Joe to Magic Mike, and now Mud, McConaughey seems determined to break out of the Hollywood rom-com pigeonhole and create characters that impress and intrigue. And maybe even get him an Oscar nomination one day.
I have a confession to make. I have never seen a film by Japan’s master animator Hiyao Miyazaki, one of Japan's greatest animation directors, and founder of the legendary Studio Ghibli. His films have earned him international renown from critics as well as public recognition within Japan. Among the titles you may have heard are Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki is often referred to as the “Japanese Walt Disney.”
I have been contemplating an essay for some time about what I call “second chance movies.” You probably have some of these in your cinematic past. A second chance movie is one that, upon first viewing, fell somewhere between seriously disappointing and absolutely hated. And that experience could have been due to a variety of factors: your age at the first viewing, where you saw it, something in it hit too close to home… you get the idea. Then later in life, when you decide to see that particular film again, imagine your surprise when it turns out to be not only good but also ends up as one of your favorites.
You might see the trailer for Tina Fey’s new movie Admissionand think, “oh, a nice comedy.” Sorry, but no. It’s at best a “dramedy.” Tina Fey plays an assistant admissions officer at Princeton University, a position she’s had for sixteen years. The head of the department is about to retire, and Fey is in direct competition with snarky Gloria Reuben to take over. Along the way toward that goal, she meets people who, in effect, turn her life upside down, and she has to face her past and assume some responsibility. Hence, the title Admission has a double meaning. It refers not only to her vocation, but she must own up to her errors in life.