Daily Archives: May 16, 2020

Crass Consciousness [EDTV]

From the Chicago Reader (March 26, 1999). — J.R.

EDtv

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Ron Howard

Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel

With Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, and Elizabeth Hurley.

I tend to like Ron Howard movies. They’re usually energetic, Capra-like popular entertainments that respect the audience — not a common virtue these days. Howard is one of the few remaining filmmakers from the Hollywood studio tradition who can be counted on to offer honest diversion without making any undue claims for what he’s doing — and I include everything from Grand Theft Auto and Night Shift to Splash and Cocoon, from Gung Ho and Parenthood to the underrated Far and Away, Backdraft, and The Paper, and even dubious efforts such as Willow and Apollo 13. Even when his films are satirical, as Gung Ho is, they don’t offer their commentaries from the top of soap boxes, and their messages are sweet tempered rather than caustic.

EDtv conforms to this pattern, though it runs up against a current conundrum — how can one criticize the excesses of the contemporary media without blaming the audience?… Read more »

Pushing Tin

From the Chicago Reader (April 20, 1999). — J.R.

Though this comedy-drama about a macho feud between two New York air-traffic controllers (John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton) is never entirely believable, it’s consistently lively, offbeat, and unpredictable, suggesting at times the improbable fusion of Howard Hawks and Sigmund Freud. Inspired by an article by Darcy Frey in the New York Times Magazine, the screenplay by brothers Glen and Les Charles (creators of the TV show Cheers) piles hyperbole on top of frenzy in spelling out the heroes’ frenetic lifestyle. In particular, it focuses on the putative wife swapping (involving Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie) that emerges from the rivalry. Cusack may be called upon to hog too much of the limelight, if only because the story is mainly told from his point of view, but director Mike Newell’s flair for mixing and matching his entire cast seldom falters. (JR)

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Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

From the Chicago Reader (May 1999). — J.R.

Not bad for a toy commercial, and the SF settings, however familiar, are even more impressive than the gadgets and beasties. The casualties are narrative momentum (at least compared to episode four) and the actors — Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Park — who are stilted and humorless but can’t be blamed, since George Lucas’s mind was on the digital effects. (An overgrown Jamaican reptile of indeterminate gender named Jar Jar Binks has been created specifically to tell the audience when it’s OK to laugh.) At great expense, Lucas has finally succeeded in duplicating his low-budget models (mainly serials and westerns of the 50s) in emotional range as well as in action. The digital effects help him realize this sincere aim, but the campy whiffs of pseudoprofundity are strictly analogical and exclusively the writer-director’s, and in a way they’re every bit as charming as the simplicity. PG, 133 min. (JR)

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