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Pete and Elliot looking at the evening sky_zpsuk7od7he.jpg

The film is gorgeous. Often jaw-droppingly.

The first indicator that Pete’s Dragon had the potential to be something special was the hiring of David Lowery, whose previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a moody, slow, and Malickian drama that was critically acclaimed and underseen. I saw it just prior to seeing this, and the contrast reminded me of Spike Jonze and his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t know if Pete’s Dragon is as sophisticated and singular as that film, but it’s definitely just as powerful and perhaps more so for its accessibility. Though it never talks down to kids and deals with some very difficult subject matter, Pete’s Dragon maintains a safer overall approach. But I was reminded of the way Where the Wild Things Are, which to me is the gold standard for sophisticated movies about and for kids, weaves wonder and drama together into a relatively daring emotional core.

I dare you to feel nothing in the opening minutes of Pete’s Dragon. This is a movie, like the kids movies I grew up with (Land Before Time and The Neverending Story come to mind), that is unafraid to be as sad as it is happy. Whenever the movie could veer into a bouncy, safe, and condescendingly “kiddie” version of a sequence, it refrains. Lowery keeps the movie grounded even when you’re watching a giant CG dragon splashing in a stream. These scenes definitely owe a debt to How to Train Your Dragon but the association is a positive one, helping the audience to completely buy Elliot and his puppy-like behavior. This is key because where many films of this kind would under-utilize the “fantastic” elements, like big green dragons, and focus instead of human drama and safer, more familiar scenes and characterizations, Pete’s Dragon spends only the amount of time on that stuff as is needed to serve the story and its emotional, thematic beats. If anything, some characters could have used more time, but overall it’s a good thing that the film keeps its focus centered on the dragon and his boy.

SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE, THOUGH.

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captain-america-winter-soldier-chase

Wonder how this will turn out?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a hot commodity in the unabashed success that is Marvel’s “Phase 2”. This post-Avengers run of sequels to the flagship solo superhero movies has been a prodigious leap forward in terms of care and quality and The Winter Soldier is no exception. In every way it is bigger, better, more self-assured, and more fun than its predecessor. But because it stays rooted in character, it relies fully on both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers for its weight and impact. Beyond that, The Winter Soldier proves without a doubt that these movies can play with genre conventions without ever flinching away their essential nature as superhero movies. In this way, the Marvel films are following a tradition where superhero stories have always been at their best when they use their fantastic elements to comment on social issues, politics, ideology, and ethics.

All these movies lean in on each other, comment on each other, and strike out in bold new directions. It’s a unique enterprise, something we remind ourselves again and again is the first time anyth project like the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has ever been attempted. Partly we do this because we’re in awe that this happened at all, that it continues to happen. Partly we do this because these movies keep getting better and keep not letting us move on to a place where the merit of the MCU stagnates or becomes obligatory.

That’s maybe the coolest thing about this movie. Past the scale and the action and even the depth, it’s that it feels like a breath of fresh air. When you think about it, that’s kind of crazy. Not that The Winter Soldier is perfect, mind you, but it perhaps comes the closest (at least technically) of any Marvel film thus far. If anything, it’s only flaw is more of a virtue: it leaves us very much wanting more. Read the rest of this entry »

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