Elysium (2013)

Why We Still Dream… of Electric Sheep In his new film Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp reaches for the holy grail of science-fiction cinema, Blade Runner. Alas, the disappointing new film starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster has the right look, inspired by the work of futurist designer Syd Mead, but none of the sophisticated thematic ...

Blue Jasmine (2013)

She Didn’t Have a Heart to Leave in San Francisco In the heyday of Woody Allen’s career, he alternated between large epic films about men grappling with moral crises, and smaller films about women suffering the impacts of such men’s behaviors. For example, in 1989’s Oscar nominated Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen’s camera recoils in existential ...

Clear History (2013)

The Fountain…foot-in-mouth In Greg Mottola’s Clear History, the latest comic concoction starring Larry David, premiering in the United States on HBO this month, the creator of the revolutionary sitcoms Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm registers another triumph. By now, it must be clear that Larry David is this century’s Moliere, a master of social critique ...

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 ...