Sunday, June 17, 2012


Reality Bites, USA, 1994
Dir: Ben Stiller
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller

Reality Bites follows Lelaina, played by Winona Ryder, a recent college grad who works as a TV production assistant. Her best friends are Vickie, played by Janeane Garofalo, Sammie, played by Steve Zahn, and Troy, the wannabe artist in love with Lelaina, played by Ethan Hawke. Reality Bites is a movie about its time. And because the 1990s were considered the Generation-X, Reality Bites came to be the defining film of Gen-X. Like The Graduate did for the peace and love generation, Saturday Night Fever did for the disco era, and The Breakfast Club did for the 80s, Reality Bites explains what its like to be a young adult living in the 90s. The film was directed by one of its stars, Ben Stiller. At the time, he was most famous for being comedian Jerry Stiller’s son and for creating The Ben Stiller Show, which became defunct after two years on MTV.
A lot of the narrative is told through video interviews as part of Lelaina’s attempt at a documentary on her friends and contemporary culture.  She expresses her distaste for consumerism, and yuppy-culture. She dates Michael, played by Stiller, a young executive who lacks the charm and bravado of the outspoken musician Troy. Stiller does a convincing job as an actor, and does better as a director, perfectly capturing that period in time when Michael Bay music videos and Big Gulps were the most prominent features of pop culture. Independent film was riding huge waves after the success of small-scale filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith. Studios were more open to young, first time filmmakers, eager for fresh material. Jersey Films, the production company of actor Danny DeVito, produced Reality Bites. The company came to prominence in the 90s producing successful films like Pulp Fiction, and Out of Sight.
Reality Bites also had a hip soundtrack featuring the music of Squeeze, The Knack, Peter Frampton and Lisa Loeb. Ryder was the quintessential it-girl of the 90s. Her breakout role was in the high school dark comedy Heathers, chronicling life as a teenager. She also worked with top directors like Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen. Hawke used his turn in Reality Bites as the cynical and artistic rebel to propel himself to the A-list. He went on to star in indie hits like Before Sunrise, and Gattaca, as well as more commercially successful fare like Training Day, which got Hawke an Oscar Nomination. 

Films about contemporary youth culture stretches back to 1955 when James Dean  and Natalie Wood starred in Rebel Without a Cause. 1955 was also the year Dean perished in a head-on collision with another car while driving down Route 41 in California. 39 years later, Reality Bites made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. People immediately identified with its themes of confusion and alienation following graduation from college. The film, however, hasn’t aged well. Times have changed, and today, more than 18 years later, our culture is worried less about HIV exams and VHS tapes and more about their Facebook accounts and the latest iPhone app.
What, then, is the defining film of our generation? Is there one defining movie that we can say truly captures the reality of culture today? Perhaps its difficult to find the right script or the right actors whose collective voice can define a generation. But in 1994, brought together by that magic potion whose ingredients are kept secret by the movie gods, a group of characters came together to produce a charming and funny look at people trying to break out into the new world. Looking back today, the film is still relevant to all of us who are in similar positions, the only difference being it’s 2012, and not 1994. The same could be said about other culture-defining films, like the aforementioned The Graduate or Midnight Cowboy or anything by John Hughes. The problems are the same, but the clothes are different.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Twins, 1988, USA  
Dir: Ivan Reitman  
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Chloe Webb

Now I'm going to talk about a movie that most people would not consider to be a  masterpiece but it's one of my favorite films from my childhood and honestly, its  a comedy with a lot of charm and appeal. I’m talking about Ivan Reitman’s 1988 comedy, Twins. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, improbably, but intentionally, as two brothers separated at birth. Their life began as a scientific experiment involving the creation of the perfect specimen, the 6’2, muscular and brilliant Julius, played by Schwarzenegger. Through a medical miracle, a second embryo turned out the “scraps” of the genes, the 5’1, stocky, and smug Vincent, played by DeVito.

At the time of the release, DeVito was just coming off the success of the popular TV show, Taxi. Schwarzenegger was already on his way to being America’s number one movie star, having played Conan the Barbarian in two films, and the Terminator, to international success. He also played in blockbusters like The Running Man and Predator. 1988 brought Arnold to the world of comedy. Reitman, fresh off the success of Ghostbusters was slated to direct, and its stars were a (mis)match made in heaven. The two played brilliantly together, as one was the obnoxious, con-artist type, while the other was the charming, intelligent brother. The ying and the yang. 

Twins is about 80s consumerism. When supermarkets and microwaves were becoming popular. A time when owning a Cadillac meant you were wealthy and prosperous. This is when Arnold was the most charismatic and capable actor in Hollywood, and DeVito was its smarmiest. Schwarzenegger and DeVito spend the majority of the film bonding and tracking down their mother who was told her child died during the experiment. Twins also stars David Caruso, in one of his earliest roles, and Kelly Preston, the future Mrs. John Travolta, who played Schwarzenegger’s love interest in the film. 

Twins was a film released during the latter part of the 80s, that era of synthesizers and montages set to cheesy music. Twins is a simple movie, really. It doesn’t have flashy effects, or Woody Allen-type writing. It doesn’t feature extensive set design or staging. But it’s a happy film, with great characters, that will make you laugh and enjoy yourself. Schwarzenegger really proved it to himself and to audiences that he could pull off lighter fare, that he didn’t need to be the macho, tough guy action hero in every movie. He was able to show a different, warmer side of himself, and it paid off tremendously.

The film was a financial success, and allowed Schwarzenegger to reach a different stratosphere of movie stardom. He continued to be the world’s biggest actor for several more years. He starred in the sci-fi classic Total Recall in 1990, and a year later, reprised his role as the Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the biggest hit of his career. In 2003, Schwarzenegger became the 38th Governer of the state of California.

He has produced the greatest underdog story in movie history—his own life. Hailing from Austria, he came to international attention as a bodybuilder and star of the documentary Pumping Iron in 1977. He later became a huge movie star in Hollywood, married a Kennedy, and became the leader of the most populated state in America. His pairing with DeVito in Twins would not be their last one together. In 1994, they starred in the less-successful comedy Junior.

Twins is a film I first saw as a child, because the only channels I had on my television were the standard six channels that came with TV’s in the early-1990s. And since Twins was a new release for the television market, it would be on TV quiet often. So it became one of those guilty pleasures from the past that all of us have. If we were children of the 1950s, it might be It’s a Wonderful Life. If we were children of the 1980s, it might be Star Wars. For me, it was Twins

Monday, June 4, 2012


Ridley Scott’s 20th feature film, the sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus, to be released this week, is one of the summer’s most highly anticipated films. It marks a full circle for Mr. Scott, who, a few generations ago directed two of the all time great science fiction films, Alien and Blade Runner, in the late 70s, and early 80s. The fact that Scott is still around making big budget films is a testament to his talent as a filmmaker. He started out shooting short films with his brother, Tony, who has also gone on to become a renowned filmmaker, in England, where they grew up. Ridley Scott began working in advertising in the 1960s and eventually started directing commercials, working his way up to his feature debut, The Duellists with Harvey Keitel, in 1977. Ridley had just turned 40. 

Two years later came his international breakthrough. Alien, starring a then unknown Sigourney Weaver, centered on a space crew that encounters a deadly creature. The film’s heroine, Ellen Ripley, was a landmark for women actors. The film was a box office success, and Scott had his first hit. Three years later, Scott directed Harrison Ford, straight out of Indiana Jones, and Star Wars, in the extremely ambitious, visually stunning Blade Runner. The film took place in a futuristic Los Angeles, and set the standard for sci-fi pictures that followed. Although not a success initially, Blade Runner has since gone on to become a huge cult hit. In 1985, Scott directed a dark fantasy film called Legend, with a young Tom Cruise in the lead. Scott continued to direct smaller fare like Someone to Watch Over Me in 1987, and Black Rain, with Michael Douglas, in 1989.

Ridley got a big break in 1991, when he directed Thelma & Louise, another female-oriented film, this time headlined by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. The movie won a lot of acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Scott followed it up with 1492: Conquest of Paradise, the story of Christopher Columbus, in time for the 500th anniversary of his “discovery” of America. The film flopped at the box office, and Scott retreated once more, away from the film business. He came back four years later with White Squall, starring Jeff Bridges, but the film failed to garner any notice. A year later, Scott directed the controversial G.I. Jane, starring Demi Moore as a woman who enrolls into the Navy SEALS.

Around this time, while Scott’s star was fading, his younger brother Tony was making a name for himself with films like Top Gun, one of the most iconic films of the 80s, True Romance, written by a pre-Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino, and Crimson Tide, which started his working relationship with Denzel Washington. The two have since gone on to make four more movies together. The Scott brothers also started a production company called Scott Free Productions, which produces television fare like Numb3rs and The Good Wife, as well as all of Ridley’s films. 

After the failure of G.I. Jane, Ridley Scott did not make another film for three years, but when he did make his big screen return, it would be the biggest success of Scott’s career. Russell Crowe had already made a name for himself in his native Australia, so it was only logical that he would be granted an opportunity to make it in America. After starring in acclaimed films like L.A. Confidential and The Insider for filmmakers Curtis Hanson and Michael Mann, Crowe was cast as the lead in Scott’s Roman-coliseum-epic Gladiator. In the spring of 2000, the film was released to great acclaim. The movie ended up grossing over $450 million worldwide, and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including one for Scott as Best Director, and Crowe as Best Actor. The film won 5 Oscars, including one for Crowe. Scott lost out to Steven Soderbergh and Traffic in the Best Director race, but Gladiator won the top prize of the night, the Best Picture Oscar. Scott then went on a directing purge over the course of the next decade, and re-emerged as one of the premiere filmmakers of his time.

He directed the much-buzzed about sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, in 2001, with Anthony Hopkins returning as his most famous character, the eponymous Hannibal Lecter. That same year, Scott visited Somalia in Black Hawk Down, a true story of U.S. Soldiers on a mission to fight renegade warlords. The film won two Oscars. In 2003, Scott directed Nicolas Cage in Matchstick Men, where Cage played a con man with OCD, who learns he has a 14-year old daughter he never knew he fathered. 

In 2005, Scott returned to the battlefield with Kingdom of Heaven, an epic action-adventure film about the crusades in 12th Century Jerusalem. The film received mixed reviews but still packs a punch with an all-star cast. The following year, Scott directed A Good Year, a romantic drama starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard. Scott would continue to work with Crowe on three more films, 2007’s American Gangster, with Denzel Washington, 2008’s Body of Lies, with Leonardo DiCaprio and 2010’s dark fable Robin Hood, with Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion. In all, Scott completed nine films in ten years from 2000-2010. When word got out that Scott was working on a quasi-prequel to one of his biggest hits, fans of the Alien franchise became excited and now that excitement will reach its peak when Prometheus is finally released on June 8th. Now, the 74-year old filmmaker says he will re-visit futuristic worlds and dangerous replicants again with a sequel to Blade Runner

Mr. Scott has been married three times, most recently to the actress Giannina Facio. He has two sons, Jake, and Luke, and a daughter, Jordan, all of whom are filmmakers and work in Scott’s production company. In 2011, Scott received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Over the course of four decades of working in the business, Scott has cemented his position as a marvelous director with a flair for the visuals. Aside from filmmaking, Scott also directed the infamous Apple Macintosh commercial during the 1984 Superbowl, influenced by George Orwell’s classic nightmarish novel 1984.

Prometheus arrives during a time where 3D blockbusters reign over the box office, both domestically, and more significantly, internationally. The film’s cast includes Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, and Noomi Rapace, from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the Swedish version). Scott is also working on a film for 2013 called The Counselor, with Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. Whatever legacy Scott leaves behind, when his filmmaking days are over, his place as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time has already been etched in stone. 

His body of work has varied from gladiators to road flicks, to space operas, to intimate dramas, and now has completed the full circle from British ad man, to American horror storyteller, along the way picking up three Academy Award Nominations for Best Director, and comprising one of the most unique film resumes in history. Whatever Ridley Scott does next, you can be sure that it will be one of the most talked about movies of the year.