It’s that time of the year again. Eleven months have magically flown by and we are at the end of another date on the calendar, another number in our aging life, and for us film critics, another over hyped and amplified awards season. The films are flying by at a rate so rapid that only the most skilled of journalists can keep up. It’s a whirlwind of promises and passes, of the highly anticipated and the shouldn’t-have-bothered. Among the many movies vying for our attention right now is the latest from Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis. An amazing work of playful period piece commentary, the brothers’ focus on the Greenwich Village scene pre-Bob Dylan remains a delightfully demented puzzle box. Even the finale, which finds our hero being brought back to the point where we first met him, reminds us that, in the world of these Oscar winner auteurs, the last word is just as important as the first.
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We told you not to scream that. We were always planning to come back to this topic and address the need to showcase fantastic mothers and evil dads. Besides, isn’t that the way we typically envision these adult archetypes? It’s rare when a Mom does something awful, and Fathers are typically given over to rants, raves, discipline, and disgusted looks when you come home past curfew, not understanding and sympathy. So last time around, our focus on virtuous men and wicked women had to be a bit of a shocker. Indeed, when you consider the long lineage of good/bad movie characters, there are far more wicked stepmothers and brave and noble male role models than the other way around, right?
We all have them—parents, that is. Someone decided to have sex with someone else and when biology could and would take over, a tiny life (or two…or three…or…) was eventually created. From this point forward, everything else becomes a crapshoot. You could be born into poverty. Your Mommy and Daddy could be obnoxiously old money. You could be catered too and loved. You can also be abandoned and left to the State to support. Nothing is set in the world of children and their legal guardians. Everyone’s life is different and everyone’s experience is individualized…and yet, there’s no denying a connection between how your Mother and Father choose to raise you (or not) and how you turn out in your older years. Just ask an FBI profiler or Dr. Phil - they’ll attest to the power parents have over their offspring. For many, it’s minimal. For others, it’s part of a lifelong struggle that sees the sins of the past (and those who commit them) visited on the circumstances of the present.
Musicals are once again off the radar, though this month we will see its limited return with an update of the “classic” Langston Hughes piece, Black Nativity. Naturally, the original gospel themed show has been given an urban update by director Kasi Lemmons, and one imagines a new soundtrack thanks to a need to feed the demo, but the truth is that, outside of Disney’s upcoming Frozen, we’re back to where we were pre-Chicago. Singing and dancing on film is being relegated to gang-like standoffs ala Step Up and Pitch Perfect or refashioned standards with new material included to make the supposed stars (contractually) happy. While there are rumors of new projects (we’ve already got a take on Stephen Sondheim’s revisionist fairy tale, Into the Woods, in the works, featuring Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep) are abundant, few in film can see the forest of available material from the trees of ticket sales.
Every film genre takes skill to realize. A good drama is just as hard to make as a good comedy, convincing sci-fi as difficult as exciting action. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of horror. Frightening people, like making them laugh or sing along, is an individualized and rare commodity. Doing it consistently means you’ve not only cracked that particularly difficult nut, but you’ve found that elusive skill of worming your way into people’s exceedingly jaded and cynical psyche time and time again. It is only then when you can be called a true horror maestro, one of the few fear manufacturers who the devoted rely on to deliver the goods time and time again. Sure, there are anomalies here and there, but for the most part, their reliability overcomes the occasional lapse.