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Jeff Goldblum (#110 of 6)

An Essential Entry in the Up-All-Night Canon: Dazed and Confused Turns 20

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An Essential Entry in the Up-All-Night Canon: <em>Dazed and Confused</em> Turns 20
An Essential Entry in the Up-All-Night Canon: <em>Dazed and Confused</em> Turns 20

Few directors are as enamored with the passage of time and the preservation of memory as Richard Linklater. From the episodic chronicling of a relationship in the Before trilogy and the real-time unfolding of the chamber play Tape to his upcoming Boyhood, which was filmed in vignettes over the last 12 years to reflect the aging of its protagonist, Linklater is primarily concerned with capturing specific moments of significance and preserving them like celluloid time capsules. To that end, Linklater’s teenage opus Dazed and Confused, a 1970s high-school snapshot that, on Oct. 10, celebrated its 20th birthday at the New York Film Festival, ideally and uniquely lends itself to an anniversary screening. And even if Linklater, who was present at the screening, joked in his intro that the film “never would’ve gotten into” NYFF when it was first released, it also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most beloved and influential movies of the 1990s.

New York Film Festival 2013: Le Week-end Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Le Week-end</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Le Week-end</em> Review

Nick and Meg have barely stepped off the Eurostar in Roger Michell’s Le Week-end when it becomes evident that nothing bodes well for their hope of recapturing the magic of their honeymoon in Paris from 30 years before. The steps of Montmartre seem so much steeper, the hotel in which they once stayed has been tawdrily refurbished, but, most importantly, the middle-aged English couple, played with consummate skill by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, have reached a point in their married life where they can only irritate the hell out of each other.

Le Week-end is written by Hanif Kureishi, who in the mid ’80s, with movies like My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Roise Get Laid, delighted in being one of the bad boys of independent British cinema. Now two years shy of 60, which makes him about the same age as his characters, he’s writing in a more mature and introspective vein. Le Week-end is a portrait of a failing marriage, where the two partners, having endured a monogamous life together, are now questioning whether or not they should remain together. Meg can’t seem to summon up anything but scorn for her husband, a once-promising academic soon to lose his job at a community college in Birmingham. For his part, Nick is painfully aware that he’s totally dependent on his wife, and that he hasn’t lived up to his own potential. “I’m amazed at how mediocre I have turned out to be,” he remarks ruefully at one point.

Summer of ‘88: Vibes

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Vibes</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Vibes</em>

This past June, 59-year-old Cyndi Lauper—an enduring and consistently surprising presence on the American pop-music scene—won a Tony award for her score to the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. The accolade was a remarkable achievement for the Queens, N.Y. native, particularly given that it was for her debut in the medium. But let us flash back 26 years to 1987 when Lauper, then known primarily as a peppy, kooky pop singer with a string of hits behind her, was gearing up for a debut of a different sort. She’d been cast in her first acting role, in Vibes, a high-concept comedy about a pair of hapless psychics who travel to Ecuador in order to help a shady figure obtain a mystical golden relic. Unfortunately, unlike Kinky Boots, the outcome wasn’t particularly rewarding.

The portents were ominous from the beginning. Dan Aykroyd was cast as the male lead, but bailed because he felt uneasy about Lauper’s intuitive acting style. As Lauper recalls in her 2012 memoir: “We did a reading together…I was totally green, and nobody told me how to do it. And when Dan saw what I did, I guess he felt my approach was just wrong and he kept saying, ’How are you going to talk to your spirit guide?’” Aykroyd was replaced by Jeff Goldblum, but another setback followed when original director Ron Howard, who’d recently hit big with Splash and Cocoon, suddenly dropped out, leaving relative rookie Ken Kwapis (Follow That Bird) to take over.

Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

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Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies
Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

With the arrival of the 20th anniversary, 3D re-release of Jurassic Park, what I’d like to convince you of is that the film watered down, significantly, the soul of the novel from which it was based (and we’re talking about a Michael Crichton page-turner for Christ’s sake). Instead of being the kind of decadent, lost-in-the-jungle, labyrinthine cinematic fever dream it could’ve been—one in which the production of the film would’ve eerily re-enacted and factually re-performed the hallucinatory chaos of what it was trying to fictionally record (a la Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, and their respective making-of docs, Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams), Spielberg’s Jurassic Park instead played it safe, and did so in a way that was slick, corporate, and patronizing to its audience. And one of the ways it punted artistically was to almost entirely purge from Crichton’s novel its heavy theorizing about chaos theory and fractals, which, in those days (the late ’80s/early ’90s), had just made its way into the intellectual mainstream. I’d like to briefly make the point that this was a grievous mistake (for the movie), because chaos theory and fractals have everything to do with scary movies, and horror and terror and the kind of man-eating monstrosities Spielberg and his team put so much goddamned time and money into making look realistic.

Take Two #3: Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) and The Big Chill (1983)

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Take Two #3: <em>Return of the Secaucus 7</em> (1980) and <em>The Big Chill</em> (1983)
Take Two #3: <em>Return of the Secaucus 7</em> (1980) and <em>The Big Chill</em> (1983)

[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

John Sayles’s Return of the Secaucus 7 may not have invented American independent film as we know it (many of its supposed innovations had been previously seen in films by John Cassevetes, Eagle Pennell, and Charles Burnett), but it certainly gave shape, for better and for worse, to a subgenre that’s proven particularly lucrative ever since. Talky, character-driven, emotionally cathartic rather than firmly plotted, Return of the Secaucus 7’s descendants seem to trickle out by the dozen from Sundance and the major studios’ art divisions every year. We tend to think of these movies, where groups of comfortable/quirky white people just sit around talking, as cookie-cutter “indie” fare nowadays, but in 1983, that exact scenario was written and filmed by no less than the writer of The Empire Strikes Back, with help from a half-dozen major movie stars, and grossed many millions of dollars on top of multiplatinum soundtrack sales.

T.V. on TV: The Black Donnellys, Raines, & The Winner

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T.V. on TV: <em>The Black Donnellys</em>, <em>Raines</em>, & <em>The Winner</em>
T.V. on TV: <em>The Black Donnellys</em>, <em>Raines</em>, & <em>The Winner</em>

It’s tempting to write off The Black Donnellys (premiering Monday night at 10 p.m. EST on NBC) as The Sopranos Lite. And, to be fair, in many ways it is.

It’s got the same greasy thrill of the underworld aesthetic that the superior HBO series has. Its one differing trait—that it traces how a gang of mobsters got to the top instead of starting that chronicle when the mobsters were already at the top—isn’t sufficiently different enough to set it far enough apart from Tony and his crew. Even the larger themes (the importance of family, the gradual corrupting influence of crime) are major Sopranos themes (not to mention major themes of those other two modern documents of the mob—The Godfather movies and Goodfellas). Add in the fact that the series comes from the much-vilified Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Best Picture winner Crash; Haggis, in addition, was responsible for the script for the previous Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, too), and you have what seems like a recipe for a hubristic failure.