The Way, Way Back (2013)

“Just How Far Back, Exactly?” Nat Faxon’s and Jim Rash’s remarkable new comedy, The Way, Way Back offers a remarkable intertextual collision between teen comedies from the 1980s, such as Meatballs (Ivan Reitman, 1979), and far more significant cinema. I want to explore The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) as the quintessential bildungsroman of New Hollywood ...

World War Z (2013)

Of Zombies and Movie Men In graduate school, I took a course in modernist British literature in which we read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. That 1916 novel builds to a quintessential example of James Joyce’s concept of the epiphany: bildungsroman protagonist Stephen Dedalus stands on a beach realizing that he ...

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

James Kirk’s Phony Death and the Exasperation of Star Trek: Into Darkness Inspired by Wagon Train (ABC/NBC, 1957-1965), Gene Roddenberry in the 1960s developed in Star Trek (NBC, 1966-1969) a science-fiction vehicle capable of grappling with the canonical questions of Western drama in a pseudo-anthology format. Each week, the crew of the Enterprise would arrive ...

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Fitzgerald’s Words, Luhrmann’s Music, and Asia’s Special Effects To prepare for tonight’s release of Baz Luhrmann’s new film, a highly promoted adaptation of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel for the first time since high school. What I discovered is that teaching great literature is wasted on teenagers. The ...

Star Trek (2009)

J.J. Abrams and the Heart of Science Fiction The foundation of big budget science fiction cinema, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) theorizes its own bifurcated audience reactions. On the one hand, the film presents such a sumptuous world of the future that its production design continues to dazzle almost a century later, inspiring everything from Queen ...

The Tempest (2010)

Miranda’s Mamma: Hollywood Cinema and The Tempest At the opening of her aggressively postmodern 1999 film version of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (1594), Julie Taymor presents a 20th century boy playing war with his action figures. When a bomb explodes in the kitchen, all hell breaks loose until he is rescued from the chaos by ...

Life of Pi (2012)

“And so it goes with cinema.” The elderly narrator of Life of Pi argues in the opening author’s note: “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” (x). Reading Pi’s story, I was consistently struck by the unlikelihood of this proposition. Indeed, I cared very little for the novel until almost the ...

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Echoes of Our Cinematic Fathers In his book, Allegories of Cinema, David James argues that Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (1968) draws mainstream Hollywood filmmaking into the orbit of experimental cinema. In his astonishingly ambitious new film about fathers and sons, The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance follows in Kubrick’s footsteps. The structure of the film ...

Oblivion (2013)

Cruise’s World In his 1995 study of philosophy and religion, French philosopher Jacques Derrida studies how human beings archive past experience. Translated into English as Archive Fever, the original title, Mal d’archive—“archive sickness”—diagnoses our culture’s obsession with failing memory, finding the cure not in pointing back into the past, but instead by conceiving of a ...

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

The Composer’s Flood and the Filmmaker’s Storm There’s a scene in the middle of Wes Anderson’s terrific new film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012), in which a slovenly father, Walt Bishop (played with typical drollery by Bill Murray) talks with his wife Laura (played by Frances McDormand) about their odd daughter, Suzy (Kara Hayward) who has run ...