Movie Project #30 and #31: Apollo 13 [1995] & Philadelphia [1993]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Apollo 13 [1995]
Apollo 13 [1995, dir. Ron Howard]
Ah yes, “Houston, we have a problem.” Ron Howard’s spin on the near-disastrous real-life Apollo 13 mission certainly has its place in pop culture history. It also serves as an intriguing history lesson, especially for someone (i.e. me) who somehow had not seen this over the last nineteen years.

Apollo 13 tells the story of what should have been America’s third Moon landing mission, one that ultimately put the crew’s lives in danger due to a mechanical defect. Even though I had known at the very least that the crew would survive, the film remains a mostly suspenseful ride. The three men aboard the spacecraft, Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), frantically work together with Mission Control back in Houston (led by a flight director played by Ed Harris) in order to make it home alive. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of tension, and the moments where everyone is able to come up with possible solutions feel like genuine triumphs. By all accounts, the film is also technically accurate, and this really enhances its overall presentation.

The cast here is terrific, though I wish characters other than Hanks’s Lovell would have been fleshed out more. I felt bad for Bacon’s Swigert, as he gets little to no development after being selected as a last-minute replacement for an astronaut with possible impending measles (played by Gary Sinise). Paxton’s character is also lacking in depth, which is surprising since these three men are essentially considered equals on the same team, yet only Hanks is given proper attention. Still, regardless of these character flaws, Apollo 13 does remain an engaging account of a mission that could have been an awful tragedy. 7/10

Philadelphia [1993]
Philadelphia [1993, dir. Jonathan Demme]
Philadelphia has its place in history for being one of the first Hollywood films to tackle HIV/AIDS and homophobia, and for that, it certainly deserves some praise. It helps to have two powerhouse performances from two of the best actors in the business as well.

Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an AIDS-stricken lawyer who is fired solely because of his condition. He enlists the help of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the only willing attorney in Philadelphia to file this wrongful dismission suit. Miller is homophobic, and the film makes sure to remind us this over and over again. Some scenes meant to establish this are laughable (such as one where Miller is hit on at a pharmacy by a football-carrying man), but Washington is so good that he transcends the sometimes cringe-worthy dialogue. Hanks won an Oscar for his performance, and perhaps deservedly so — this is among his best work.

Philadelphia has its heart in the right place — the fact that it helped deconstruct so many myths about AIDS is fantastic — but it fails in other accounts. For a film in which its main character is a gay man in a loving relationship with another (played by Antonio Banderas), I can’t recall seeing two men kiss at all during its run time. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for this at the time, but it seems like a glaring oversight. Philadelphia is still a captivating watch, as well as a solid courtroom drama, but its issues are more noticeable today. 7/10

Movie Project #43: A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

A Beautiful Mind [2001]
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany
Running Time: 135 minutes

(This post contains spoilers.)

The evolution of John Nash (Russell Crowe) in A Beautiful Mind is nothing short of remarkable.

In 1947, as a graduate student at Princeton University, Nash is a bold, cocky young man. He is confident in his mathematical talent, but his social skills are lacking. A flamboyant roommate, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany), helps bring him out of his shell, and eventually he fits in with a new circle of friends.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

Nash’s personal growth is even more successful after college, as he gets a job as a professor at MIT, and he begins dating (and later marries) one of his very attractive students, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). And just as he starts to grow tired of his day-to-day work, he gets a top-secret offer from a high-ranking Pentagon official, William Parcher (Ed Harris). Nash is confidentially hired on as a codebreaker, with his assignment being to find and decode hidden messages that the Russians placed into newspapers and magazines.

There’s just one problem. Parcher isn’t real.

Nash suffers from schizophrenia, and he is constantly imagining people and situations that don’t exist. Because he believes he is part of a classified government assignment, he becomes increasingly paranoid that the Russians are after him, and this begins to greatly impact his personal and professional life. Eventually, he is taken in by a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer), though the treatment at this time was only shock therapy.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The middle years of Nash’s life finds him struggling with his mental illness, unable to take care of his young son and also unable to work. The film’s big Hollywood moment arrives later on when Nash begins visiting MIT daily, eventually coming to terms with his hallucinations and getting his job back as a result. And, to make his story even more inspirational, the man earns a Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s a beautiful story, even if it does get a bit too schmaltzy at times. Russell Crowe does a phenomenal job as the very real (and still alive) Nash, and his mental illness is treated tactfully. Some bits of Nash’s actual life aren’t mentioned in the film, such as his bisexuality and his child out of wedlock, but director Ron Howard has claimed that this is not meant to be a literal representation. The rest of the performances, particularly that of Connelly and Harris, are excellent, and the acting as a whole helps elevate this film.

8/10

Poll Results: Favorite Ron Howard Film

Apollo 13

THE RESULTS:
– Apollo 13: 6 votes
– A Beautiful Mind: 5 votes
– Cinderella Man: 4 votes
– Far and Away: 3 votes
– Frost/Nixon: 3 votes
– Night Shift: 2 votes
– Parenthood: 2 votes
– Willow: 2 votes
– Angels & Demons: 1 vote
– Backdraft: 1 vote
– The Da Vinci Code: 1 vote
– Edtv: 1 vote
– Gung Ho: 1 vote
– How the Grinch Stole Christmas: 1 vote
– Rush: 1 vote

Confession time: I have never seen Apollo 13. Judging by the results of this poll, that’s something I need to fix ASAP. Possible entry in next year’s 50 movies project…? Other than that, nice to see so many films get votes, including Howard’s latest, Rush.

This Week’s Poll: Over the weekend, one of the most anticipated films of the year, Gravity, opened with an October record-breaking $55.8 million. Truly amazing numbers, and better yet, it’s getting overwhelmingly positive reviews (98% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.8 on IMDB). With such a strong opening, it only seems appropriate to take a look at the man behind the film: Alfonso Cuarón. What is your favorite Alfonso Cuarón film? For a director with just seven full-length films to his name, he sure has an impressive (and diverse) resume. Can’t wait to see the results on this one.

Have a great week, folks!

Poll Results: Favorite Road Trip Movie

The Warning Sign is back! After a much-needed vacation followed by an insane work week, things should be back to normal over here starting today. First, here is the winner of last week’s poll:

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

THE RESULTS:
– Planes, Trains & Automobiles: 5 votes
– Thelma & Louise: 3 votes
– Badlands: 2 votes
– Little Miss Sunshine: 2 votes
– The Muppet Movie: 2 votes
– Y Tu Mamá También: 2 votes
– Borat: 1 vote
– Easy Rider: 1 vote
– It Happened One Night: 1 vote
– The Motorcycle Diaries: 1 vote
– Rain Man: 1 vote
– Sideways: 1 vote
– Two-Lane Blacktop: 1 vote
– Vanishing Point: 1 vote
– Wild Strawberries: 1 vote

As expected, a lot of different films received votes in this poll, but the 1987 John Hughes fan favorite, Plains, Trains & Automobiles, got a well-earned victory here. I didn’t get to see that film until last year, but yeah, it’s a fun movie, and I can see why so many people still love it today. Nice voting, folks, and it’s nice that so many great road trip films were represented here.

This Week’s Poll: The latest Ron Howard film, Rush, has been out for a week now, and it has been getting a lot of positive buzz. In honor of this recent release, let’s take a look back at Howard’s extensive filmography. What are your two favorite Ron Howard directed films?

Have a great week everyone! It’s good to be back.