The central relationship in Herbert Ross’ “Funny Lady” involves characters whose baggage has made them inconsolable mules: a gifted songwriter with no concept of stage management, and an experienced performer hardened by the weathering of failed marriages and declining artistic standards. They meet in an early scene that is destined to generate fireworks, but not the sort that necessarily constitutes positive distinctions. They argue, express mutual respect, discuss professional partnership, and even explode into aggressive verbal tangents, sometimes in that order. There are claims of dislike that infuse their interactions, yet they continue to find reasons to be around one another. Does the aggravation inspire them? Or are they feeding off the blatant honesty of the moment, perhaps because it is a luxury rarely afforded to them? They say that damaged souls with a quick tongue have a loyalty to those who spit back the same venom; because they understand the context of the words, a respect persists beyond the outlandish tirades. Theirs is a connection so strangely alluring that it gives the film an edge rarely seen – not even in “Funny Girl,” its popular predecessor, where the only significant relationship the female lead had was the one she shared with the audience.
On the cusp of what seems to be turning into the silent death for movie personality, great stars of the past century have entered a stasis in the memory as images of a lost idealism. One of those in particular – the face of Barbra Streisand – embodies the spirit of the most important of filmmaking eras, when conventional beauty was redefined by those whose gifts were as monumental as their artistic endeavors. A divisive figure who rose from the cinders of old Hollywood glamour, found her presence during the age of feminists and endured beyond the inert populism that would attempt to silence her great aspirations, few entertainers of the past hundred years match the depth of her contributions. To consider those achievements now is to be swept up into the awe she has created in the hearts of her most loyal admirers, many of whom have come to regard her legend as pervasive even among her most accomplished peers. On a chance occasion this last August she and I finally came face-to-face during one of her rare concert tours, which culminated in an even more resonant realization: midway through her 70s there is a sense that no other living performer is as motivated to spread richness among members of the audience, even when they might not be as cognizant of the realization.
The most notable curse of time at the movies is the dulling of the proverbial edge of shock, the realization that a once-sensational gimmick can be annulled by the ongoing sensory expansion of more modern exercises. Erotic thrillers, perhaps the most notorious of testing grounds for these standards, have worn the most erosion. Once embraced with a certain apprehensive enthusiasm, they came and went in the latter half of the 20th century during a boom for suggestive imagery, when the marriage of sex and violence was seen as the most challenging of weapons for a director to wield. Nowadays it seems almost blasé to consider their work in a context of more ambitious shock value, especially given the rapid advance of both implications. It is rare to find any R-rated film now, for instance, that doesn’t celebrate the extremes of gore or the thrusting of excited human anatomy; they are as much a staple of pop culture trends as a mere cuss word or insulting gesture. Would a movie like “Fatal Attraction” work at all now against what has become the norm of genres intoxicated by the excess of human exposure?
Once upon a time in a faraway Hollywood boardroom, producers and executives fashioned the premise for what would become the most impenetrable force of mainstream movie genres: the family film formula. Few avenues have been as loyal to the perseverance of that standard as the animated feature, though their images are often devised to blur one’s awareness of the process; the belief is that the more distinctive or colorful the style, the less likely it is for someone to pick up on the conventional nuances or predictable indicators. But those well-versed in film cartoons eventually find themselves deciphering the output with two minds: as a child-at-heart in search of harmless adventure, and as a seasoned adult with the nerve to understand the mechanics functioning behind the curtain. A good movie will allow the former perspective of circumvent the skepticism of the other, but others may simply sell their illusions too candidly for us to forget their underlying clichés. As I watched Disney’s new “Moana,” both sides of that brain engaged in a tug-of-war that tempered my enthusiasm for what would otherwise have been a harmless experience.
“Princess Mononoke” begins with a voice that throbs over the chords of an ominous score, heralding the arrival of a menacing reality. The scene is the edge of a lush forest, fogged over, and its docile facade is jarred from silence by the breaking of branches and the flight of frightened birds. What lurks among the tall trees is not man but rather the monster man has created, a former deity of nature that has withered under corruption and now seeks to lay waste to those in his path. The peaceful denizens of a nearby village are triggered into frenzy by its dismaying appearance – a massive boar covered in an armor of maggot-like parasites – but among them is a young man whose face never seems to engage in the nightmarish rampage. It is his destiny to fight the creature and ultimately be cursed by it, leading him towards quests of intricate mystery that will blur the lines of fable and reality in ways that are rarely told (or at least done so with such precision). Those opening impulses exist above the sphere of ordinary exposition; the fact that they occur at all in an animated film is cause to contemplate the elasticity of movie genres, especially in a time when most are geared towards much simpler tastes.