Picks of the Week:
Easy Rider (Criterion)
Top Gun (Paramount)
Every once in a while, to paraphrase The Big Lebowski, there’s a movie for its time and place. It just fits right in there. This week sees the re-release of two such movies from two different times. Released in 1969, Easy Rider captured the spirit of its age and helped set the tone for the years that followed by depicting the ’60s dream at its weary end. Directed by Dennis Hopper, it also completely upset the order of Hollywood, ushering in a brief period when outsiders, film school rats, and visionaries wrested control away from the Hollywood machine. This new Criterion edition does right by the film, combining a pair of vintage audio commentaries with a couple of making-of docs. A few more new features would have been welcome, but it looks and sounds great.
By 1986, the blockbuster was king again, allowing for the rise of a new sort of visionary. Where Michael Mann famously sold Miami Vice to NBC with the pitch “MTV cops,” Top Gun‘s selling point might easily have been “MTV pilots.” It’s a film fueled by the machismo of the Reagan ’80s and the final years of the Cold War, one that’s attracted a lot of criticism over the years for making warfare look beautiful. And it does, but there’s no denying the power of Scott’s images or the effectiveness of the way he puts scenes together. Every shot is gorgeous. Every image could be dropped into a commercial. If he’s selling a bloodless vision of the military in which ideology takes a back seat to personal achievement — kind of like sports but with weapons — it’s a product the market was ready to snatch up.
Independence Day (20th Century Fox)
It’s hard to imagine a lot of films without Top Gun, whose influence can be felt today. (It might have hit theaters before Michael Bay was directing videos, but Bay was clearly paying attention.) To that last add Independence Day, which splits the difference between ’70s disaster films and Top Gun, while adding aliens. The trouble with the movie: It’s never as good as its most famous image, that of the White House being destroyed by a flying saucer. It’s a tough 10 seconds to top, even if Will Smith does have some nice moments as the hero.
Joy (2oth Century Fox)
The third pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and director David O. Russell, Joy received mixed reviews and less awards attention than their previous two team-ups. But it’s probably worth a look if you missed it the first time. If nothing else, we don’t get many biopics about mop inventors.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? (Warner Bros.)
Another movie that helped push Hollywood in a new direction, Mike Nichols’ 1966 directorial debut used Edward Albee’s hit play to strip co-stars (and real-life lovers) Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of their movie star glamour for a tale of quarreling, drunken old-marrieds and the young couple (George Segal) they “entertain” one evening (and deep into the night). Shot in beautiful black and white, it’s a film of pulsating ugliness featuring some of the most intense acting you’ll ever see. But where both Burton and Taylor could be mannered and over-the-top at times, they’re at their best here. It’s a fascinating window into a marriage that’s become a kind of hell on earth from which neither member can escape.
The 5th Wave (Sony)
Signs that the post-apocalyptic YA trend might be dying down: Do you even remember this movie coming out?