1995 Project: Short Review Round-Up

Toy Story

Busy times prevent me form writing full-length reviews, but the 1995 Project continues with a round-up of quick thoughts on what I’ve been watching this last couple weeks…

Get Shorty (Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld)
As the great Nick Davis pointed out in the last Film Experience Podcast, this movie has been kind of forgotten. Back then, it was part of the Pulp Fiction-fueled John Travolta resurgence (the “Travoltassance” is it happened today). He even won the Golden Globe for his performance as gangster-turned-Hollywood-producer Chili Palmer. And it was a very deserving win too. Chili is such a fantasy of cool that I commend Travolta for making him an actually interesting and entertaining character to watch. The supporting cast is also pretty amazing. Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Dennis Farina, James Gandolfini, and Gene Hackman very amusingly playing against type. As far as Hollywood satires go, this owes a lot and isn’t as subversive as The Playerbut it’s a very solid and entertaining movie nonetheless.

Mighty Aphrodite (Directed by Woody Allen)
This is one of Woody’s weaker films. It’s one of those that it’s too slight to be interesting, and not funny enough to make up for it with endless laughs. Woody is married to Helena Bonham Carter (in a non-role) and is curious to meet the biological mother of his adopted child, who turns out to be a fiery prostitute played by Mira Sorvino. The movie’s biggest weakness is how focused it is on the Allen character and his personal neurosis, which in this case, is not only ver uninteresting, but doesn’t have other strong characters or story-lines to bounce off of. Sorvino is amusing as an optimistic “dumb blonde”, but this is still Woody at his most condescending and uninventive.

Apollo 13 (Directed by Ron Howard)
The movie that was supposed to win Best Picture until it didn’t, Apollo 13 is still the best movie Ron Howard has ever made. I know this statement sounds like faint praise, but this is actually a really good movie. A couple years ago Rush reminded us that he can be a strong journeyman director when he wants to, and he has never had better material to work with than he does here. Hanks, Paxton, Bacon, Sinise, and Harris make up as charismatic an ensemble as the mid-90s can provide. It’s a straight forward movie about men working hard to solve problems during a mission, but a solid screenplay aided by solid performances, editing, sound design, and direction goes a long way.

Nixon (Directed by Oliver Stone)
If you want ambition, search no further. At three hours long, Stone’s portrait of the most infamous President in United States History doesn’t hit every pitch out of the park (I’m talking about Bob Hoskins as Hoover, for example), but is constantly shooting for the fences, and scores a surprising amount of home runs. The biggest draw for me is Anthony Hopkins’s performance, who lands right in the middle between his subtler and hammier performances is what is no mere mimicry, but a full interpretation of the character. In fact, everything in Stone’s movie is symbolic and interpretative. People say it’s a surprisingly humane portrayal of Nixon coming from such a strong political figure as Stone, but the movie also proposes “Tricky Dick” as the defining figure of America’s century, and as the key to understanding the rise and fall of the American Experiment. Thanks to the grandiose editing and eclectic cinematography that characterized this part of the director’s career, Stone kind of succeeds.

Toy Story (Directed by John Lasseter)
Undoubtedly a historic movie. The first computer animated feature, it announced the rise of Pixar and its imitators just as the wheels of the Disney Renaissance were about to fall off. The level to which other animation formats have suffered, and the amount of shitty computer animation we have had to sit through, seem like enough of a negative impact to hold a grudge against Pixar. But no matter what Hollywood (and Lasseter) did on the eve of the movie’s success, it is just a fact that Toy Story is basically a perfect movie. Yes, the human (and dog) characters look primitive now, but this is a mighty fine looking movie for 1995. The animation, and most importantly, the characterization of Woody and Buzz hold up greatly, as does the cleverness of the script, the dedication of the animators, and the magical simplicity of a conceit that taps into one of the most fundamental questions of childhood: what do my toys do when I’m not around? Yes, this is basically just a buddy movie, but it might as well the best in the genre. Toy Story is the definition of a classic.

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