30 films in 30 days: #13 Paper Moon (1973)

I was surprised how good I thought Paper Moon was. Like so many, I had become accustomed to the fall from grace narrative that has followed Peter Bogdanovich. His Sopranos appearances. His books on cinema. His incessant references to Welles, “Hitch” and others, always wearing the ever-present ascot. It’s all had the effect of someone playing a cameo in his own life, cobbling together bits and pieces of what he used to be.

But maybe Paper Moon shows us all that Bogdanovich ever was: a gifted critic with a gift for mimicry. The film feels something like The Grapes of Wrath played as a screwball comedy. John Ford fused with, I don’t know, Howard Hawks? There’s some Wellesian deep focus photography mixed in too. Bogdanovich’s influences are splattered everywhere. This was also true for The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc? (both fine films in their own right). As the saying goes, you could do worse than to have Ford, Hawks and Welles as your influences. But which one was the real him? Or was it the director who later made At Long Last Love and Mask?

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30 films in 30 days: #7 We Bought a Zoo (2011)

You sure you didn’t want to make that fourth Bourne movie?

“What’s a dick?”

This was the question my almost seven-year-old daughter asked me near the end of We Bought a Zoo, prompted by the use of the word by a seven-year-old girl in the film. While I am typically a fan of precocity in almost all its forms, it still had me wondering why director Cameron Crowe felt he needed a laugh line like that. (I am indeed getting old. If I had a lawn, I would be telling you to remove yourself.)

Maybe because there are precious few other laughs in this mostly family-friendly comedy, which I found to be unexpectedly dark.  Yes, they bought a zoo, but hilarity did not ensue. The wife of Matt Damon’s character has died of cancer and left him alone to raise his two kids. Fortunately, Damon is pure “super Dad” material. How many grief-stricken fathers buy animal preserves for their kids? It’s all I can do to plunk down $14.99 for a Littlest Pet Shop house at Target and he’s off buying his kids real animals. Nice way to ruin it for the rest of us.

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Trapped Again

The Beau Lebowski?

I need an answer girl, can’t you see
I’m trapped again
Come and rescue me

— Southside Johnny

A rainy Sunday afternoon with my daughter–and this is the movie of choice.  I never appreciated the value of having plucky young girls as heroines in family films until I was the father of a plucky young girl.

Free Willy: Escape from Pirates Cove (2010), the fourth Willy film,  is a direct-to-DVD release that likely would drive you slightly batty if you didn’t have a plucky young daughter. It’s the story of an 11-year-old girl (Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter) who befriends a young orca.

And it is refreshingly free of princesses, magic, Hanna Montanas, talking animals, and snark. Irwin is smart, resourceful, serious, and–dare I say–a good role model.

Also, as an adult, you’ll never be happier to see Beau Bridges in your life than when he first pops up. It’s like seeing one other person you know at a party. And the word to define his performance is, well, Lebowskiesque. Sometimes it sounds as if he’s directly channeling his brother.

The South African scenery is lovely. The CGI whales, not so much.

By the way, this is a different whale. If the same Willy needed to be freed yet again, wouldn’t you start worrying about him?