“American Graffiti” – Where were you in ’62?

Lucas nostalgia

American Graffiti: Special Edition (Universal)

Where were you in ’62? George Lucas was cruising the strip in hot rods. After his first feature, THX-1138, flopped, he reached back to his formative experiences for this easy-going “night in the life” portrait of high-school grads on the last blast of summer before heading off to college. Richard Dreyfuss takes his first leading role as the ostensible lead in a big ensemble cast that includes Ron Howard, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark and Mackenzie Philips, plus Harrison Ford in a small role as a big-talking hot-shot looking for a street race. It’s the first Lucasfilm production, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and the first film to really embrace the jukebox soundtrack: the score is essentially the song list played by deejay Wolfman Jack (playing himself) on the AM radio that every single car is tuned to.

Lucas supervised the digital remaster for the Blu-ray debut and recorded a new video picture-in-picture commentary for the release, which pops in and out of the film but it pretty consistent throughout. There’s also a function to identify the songs. Ported over from previous releases is Laurent Bouzreau’s excellent 78-minute “The Making of American Graffiti” and 22 minutes of screen tests.

More Blu-ray reviews as MSN Videodrone

New review: Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons (dir: Ron Howard)

Dan Brown has become a bestselling phenomenon based on his flair (one resists using the word talent to describe such a lazy and unkempt writer) for latching onto colorfully arcane and conspiratorial aspects of history and symbolism and creating fictional puzzles by recutting these historical curios to snap together into his own design. But the genius of his method is in the marketing: he builds his otherwise conventional mysteries of arcane knowledge around revered institutions that offer the possibility of scandal, or at least provocative revelation.

Tom Hanks: looking to the heavens for inspiration?
Tom Hanks and Ayelet Zurer: looking to the heavens for inspiration?

As in The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons (based on a book that was actually written before Da Vinci but reframed in the script to follow the movie) offers suggestions of dark secrets and ancient conflicts and a holy institution with unholy dimensions, and then systematically returns the proper order with all due respect to the Catholic Church. There’s no agenda here beyond creating a hook and suggesting controversy without actually delivering anything of substance.

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‘A Beautiful Mind’ on TCM

I write about A Beautiful Mind, that film that finally earned Ron Howard his long-anticipated Oscar, for TCM. I confess, I’m not a big fan of the film, but it’s a perfectly respectable Hollywood drama.

Ron Howard is the kind of success story Hollywood loves: an adorable child actor who made a seamless transition to young adult star but who really wanted to direct, and did, working his way up from ambitious super-8 films shot on actual Hollywood sets through the Roger Corman school of practical filmmaking (where he made Grand Theft Auto [1977]) to popular comedies (Splash [1984], Parenthood [1989]) and colorful fantasies (Cocoon [1985], Willow [1988]) without ever losing his reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. For all his commercial success, however, he never really got much respect as a serious filmmaker, even after his more-than-respectable Apollo 13 [1995]. It didn’t happen until A Beautiful Mind (2001).

Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly

The project, based on (or, more accurately, inspired by) Sylvia Nasar’s biography of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., was not necessarily the most obvious choice for an uplifting tale of perseverance and triumph over adversity. Nash, a pioneer in the development of game theory whose work in the area of pure math is hardly the most cinematic of subjects, was a brilliant eccentric diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and mild clinical depression in 1959. The film spans almost 50 years in the life of Nash, from his days as a socially withdrawn and awkward student at Princeton to his tenure teaching at M.I.T. (where he met his future wife, Alicia) to the erratic behavior that led to the diagnosis of schizophrenia and his struggle with the incurable condition that he learned to confront. What’s not in A Beautiful Mind is much of Nash’s more extreme and at times hostile behavior under the influence of his condition: the child he fathered and then abandoned before his marriage, his affairs (with both men and women) and his divorce from his wife.

The film plays on TCM early on December 29. Read the complete feature here.