June 2, 2011

MRQE Rewind: 1960's Flashback - Modern Movies Set in the '60s

X-Men: First Class opens this weekend, giving us as a look back at how it all began. We meet a young Professor X and a young Magneto, as the film explores their friendship, their eventual split, and the creation (or shall we say, founding) of X's Institute for Higher Learning, and Magento's Brotherhood of Mutants. The film is set in the 1960's, and from the trailers, we see Cold War era fears, a nod to the Civil Rights movement, and how the two play a part in how the mutants are received, and their role in protecting the globe. We also see period clothes, shots of JFK orating on a period TV set, and of course, many allusions to 60's era James Bond. As the new X-Men movie delivers a '60s flashback, tune in, drop out, and take a trip with us as we recall films from the past decade set in the decade that changed it all.


Taking Woodstock (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 57


We start with a film that delves into one of the most iconic moments from the 1960s: the Woodstock Music & Art Fair; a concert festival spanning three days of peace, love, and music that has come to symbolize all that the anti-establishment was fighting for. Based on a memoir by Elliot Tiber, an interior designer who held the only town permit to hold a music festival, the rather ho-hum limited release film, starred Dimetri Martin as Tiber, in a role that was yards away from the stand-up comedy for which he's known. Tiber offers his permit to Woodstock organizers, along with accommodations at his parents' motel, and also introduces organizer, Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) to Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) for use of Yasgur's now-famous dairy farm. Also, look for Live Schreiber as a transvestite security guard. The film, directed by Ang Lee, follow's Tiber's memoir to the tee, despite claims by organizer Lang that he was actually introduced to Yasgur by a real-estate agent. Critical reception was mixed--perhaps Martin couldn't carry a film--nevertheless, Lee makes sure the spirit of the '60s is high.



Across the Universe (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 68


2007's Across the Universe is a musical journey through the turbulent '60s set to the tune of 34 songs by The Beatles. The songs are transformed from their original composition, and are interpreted (rather literally) for the screen. The film's plot and character names (Lucy, Jude, Max, Sadie, Jojo, Desmond, Dr. Robert, and Mr. Kite) are inspired by song titles and lyrics by the Beatles. The story of love and searching for a long lost father is set against the culmination of anti-war sentiment and civil rights, which reaches its apex at Columbia University in 1968. The plot may get bogged down by just too much crammed into the plot, but the use of the songs, and the visually stunning cinematography makes this one to see.



Pirate Radio (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 61


Another ho-hum limited release, this time starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the leader of a fictional pirate radio station, broadcasting '60s rock music throughout the United Kingdom from a boat. While the boat's eclectic DJs transmit the rock, the British government tries to shut them down. The rocking soundtrack--featuring top bands of the day, including The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, and The Kinks--really was all that this movie offered. Released at first in the U.K. as The Boat that Rocked, when the film hit State-side, its marketing mudded the historical accuracy of the film, labeling it as "inspired by a true story," when in fact it wasn't, and using dialog that painted incorrect motivations for the main character. It also didn't help that the film was released against 2012, New Moon, The Blind Side, and Princess and the Frog. Damn!



Catch Me if You Can (2002) -- MRQE Metric: 79


Ok, enough '60s music talk (for now). Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks star in this whimsical Steven Spielberg-directed bio-pic about a con-man who had successfully conned himself millions of dollars by passing himself off as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. Leo stars as con-man, Frank Abagnale, Jr., who mastered the art of forgery. He's chased by G-man Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who pursues him to the very end. We see Hanratty fooled upon his first encounter with Abagnale, Jr. posing as a Secret Service agent, and then later famously stumped as Abagnale, Jr. passes the Alabama bar with no law school experience. How did he do it? We may never know. The film still lives on, as a Tony-nominated musical.



Dreamgirls (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 74


Based on a musical, and loosely inspired by the stories of both the Supremes and Motown, Dreamgirls stars Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Eddie Murphy. Split into two acts, the film first follows the rise of The Dreamettes, the animosity amongst the group, as Deena Jones (Beyoncé) steals the spotlight from Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), and the founding of a record label in a Detroit car dealership. The second act explores the troubles and redemption that hit each character, as they come to terms with their success. Jennifer Hudson completely shines in her Oscar-winning performance as a character that's part Supremes member Florence Ballard, and part Aretha Franklin. Eddie Murphy, however steals the show as pop-crooner Jimmy Early, a character that's a combination of James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and Marvin Gaye. Murphy's performance won him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.



An Education (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 78


This coming-of-age drama, based on an essay penned by British journalist Lynn Barber, tells the story of young Jenny (played with perfect maturity by Carey Mulligan), and the suave older man that seduced her (played with equal perfection by Peter Sarsgaard). Jenny is a bright-eyed schoolgirl, looking to attend Oxford University in 1961, and she soon meets David (Sarsgaard) who charms her and her parents. David's secrets soon come to light, testing the relationship and causing Jenny to question her journey. The London style of the '60s is infused in every scene, from the clothes to the cars. An Education took the critics by storm and was nominated for three Oscars including Mulligan's nod for Best Actress and Best Picture. Look for Mulligan next year as Daisy in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby.



A Serious Man (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 77


2009 not only gave us a glimpse at London in the '60s, but also took us to middle-America with the Coen Brother's A Serious Man. Set in the mid-60's in Minnesota, the film explores the strife of a Jewish man who's life is crumbling: he's losing his wife to another lover, he's losing his job, he's forced to move in to a nearby hotel with his annoying brother, and somehow, through faith, he must muster the courage to carry on. Serious attention was employed to get the look and feel of this movie just right for the time period and setting. The Coens scouted a number of locations in and around St. Louis, before finding the perfect spot. From the suburban homes, to the cars, to the clothes, to the on-screen love of Jefferson Airplane, the '60s come alive as only the Coen Brothers can deliver. The film was widely received by critics, and was up for the same Best Picture award as An Education.



I'm Not There. (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 70


As I had written a while back, "Could I'm Not There be called a bio-pic? For fans of Bob Dylan, this movie rings true to form." Certainly this is not your run-of-the-mill bio-pic, and would you expect anything less from the legendary--now, mythical--voice of the '60s generation? The film is split into six different parts, with six different actors, playing six different facets of Dylan's life and image. We see Christian Bale as fictional troubadour Jack Rollins, who finds Jesus as Pastor John (referencing Dylan during his acoustic, and then "born-again" years). There's Heath Ledger, who plays an actor portraying Jack Rollins in a bio-pic, all the while his marriage is dissolving (a mirror of Dylan's failed relationships, which led him to pen the album Blood on the Tracks). Richard Gere comes on as "Billy the Kid," in an allusion to Dylan's role in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, as well as Dylan's shying away from public life. And, of course, there's Cate Blanchett, who's portrayal of Dylan during his electric years touring the U.K. (as seen in the famous Pennebaker films Don't Look Back and Eat the Document), is so perfect it boarders creepy.



Thirteen Days (2000) -- MRQE Metric: 75


This is one for history class. Unlike the lambasted Kennedy mini-series from earlier this year, Thirteen Days accurately documents one of the most nail-bitting trials in American history: the Cuban Missile Crisis, as seen from the eyes of Kennedy and his cabinet. Based on a book that pieces together the crisis from recordings from inside the White House, the film takes us from beginning to end as Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff work out a proper solution: should we invade Cuba, or should we try to negotiate with the enemy? I must say, that Bruce Greenwood's JFK is no match to Greg Kinnear's from the aforementioned mini-series, but rest of the performances are superb; though Kevin Costner's Boston accent leaves much to be desired. Director Roger Donaldson (Species, The Recruit) perfectly matches the dialog with nail-bitting suspense, almost to the point where you wish it wasn't 2011 and you don't know the outcome of these events.



Capote (2005) -- MRQE Metric: 80


Was Philip Seymour Hoffman born to portray Truman Capote? After seeing this film, you might believe it to be true (just listen to him in the trailer below!). Hoffman earned his Oscar for his portrayal of one of the 1960's most famous icons. The film primarily is about Capote's time writing his famous novel, In Cold Blood. Upon hearing of the slaying of four members of the Clutter family in Kansas, Capote travels to the mid-west town to interview the victims and ultimately the murderers, one of which he gets emotionally attached to. The film also explores Captoe's weaknesses and his relationship with Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who is seen as authoring To Kill a Mockingbird at the time of the film's setting.


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