Review: Hook

Hook (1991)
Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Dante Basco. Written by Jim V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

The problem with Steven Spielberg’s Hook is that it’s too long, and parts of it are boring. A film with Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan returning to Neverland to fight Captain Hook shouldn’t ever be dull, but it’s painfully so in places where it shouldn’t be, and it takes too long, first to get Peter to Neverland and then to get him back home.

Add to that a weird decision to make Julia Roberts a kind of Lost Boys version of Tinkerbell, and the film has kind of a weird it’s-not-really-magic feel. I understand the rationale, as it is important for the audience to believe that Peter and his experiences are real, but why at the expense of Tinkerbell’s femininity?

Peter is unaware of who he is, although he is aware of the story of Peter Pan. His grandmother is the Wendy Darling in the story, and Peter thinks the oft-told story of Pan is an invention of his grandmother’s. So when Hook kidnaps his children, it takes Peter a while to understand the truth of his past, and even longer to embrace it. The Lost Boys and Tinkerbell try to help, but Peter is too stuck in his boring, overly cautious businessman ways.

Still, anything to save his children. And for that he must confront Hook, played with relish by Dustin Hoffman, who acts the heck out of his role and leaves me wishing someone else had been cast. The extreme camp of this portrayal doesn’t work for me against the humdrum of Peter’s real-world reality. Something a little less crusty, perhaps even younger, might have worked better.

I don’t think this is a spoiler, but if you’re sensitive to being spoiled at all by a 26-year-old movie, skip this paragraph. In my favorite scene, and the only one that really sticks pleasantly in my memory, Tinkerbell grows herself to Peter’s height, and she lets her hair down and looks pretty for the first time in the movie. She professes her love for Peter, even knowing that he loves his wife, and gives him a kiss. It’s the Julia we want to see in a movie like this, and it’s the Peter we want to see in a movie like this. I realized at this moment that what I really want to see is a romantic comedy with Roberts and Williams in the leads. Alas.

As an entertainment for children, it’s not bad, ‘though it feels like a Disneyland ad for some reason. A young Dante Basco plays Rufio and it’s an unexpected pleasure for me to see him this way. A friend who’s acquainted with Basco tells me that whenever she sees him, people yell “Rufiooooo!” at him, and I have to admit I’d be tempted in the same situation. It feels like a star-making role.

I’d watch it with my kids, but I would hope that they wouldn’t enjoy it too much.


Review: Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Jon Voigt, Dustin Hoffman. Written by Waldo Salt (based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy). Directed by John Schlesinger.

Before this week, these are the things I knew about Midnight Cowboy:

  • midcow1
    Hey! They’re walking here!

    Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt are in it, although I wouldn’t recognize Jon Voigt because I only know what he looks like today.

  • ”Hey! I’m walking here!”
  • ”Everybody’s Talkin’,” a song performed by Nilsson, is in it. And before two weeks ago, I knew the song but didn’t know it had anything to do with this film. Tony Kornheiser featured it on his podcast during the Old Guy Radio segment.
  • At the end of the Seinfeld episode with the mom-and-pop store, Kramer and Jerry get on a bus for New Jersey. Kramer’s nose starts to bleed, and he says, “Look at me; I’m falling apart here.” Jerry puts his arms around Kramer while “Everybody’s Talkin’” plays and the closing credits roll. I hadn’t made the connection between the song and this scene until last week, but I had a vague idea that this was a parody of Midnight Cowboy.
  • It was the only film rated X by the MPAA to win a Best Picture Oscar.
  • On the original (1998) AFI 100 Films list, it was ranked 36; on the updated list in 2007, it was ranked 43.
  • It’s been in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die books; I don’t know if it’s in the most recent (2016) book.

midcow2That’s a lot more than I thought I knew about it, but for such a decorated, celebrated film, it still feels almost like nothing. I had no idea who the actors played and I didn’t know the first thing about the story. So I went in about as cold as I ever do.

I can see why it’s something that sticks in people’s brains. The performances by Hoffman and Voigt are strong. The cinematography is gritty, grimy, dark, bright, and warm, a look I associate with the great films of the 1970s. It looks like a film that should be on the AFI list.

midcow3But man, the material just isn’t good enough. It’s clear that we have a film about how two guys become friends, but there are a couple of leaps in the development of their relationship that don’t make any sense. I’d be (mostly) okay with this if there was more story, but the way the story plays out doesn’t warrant fast-forwarding through our sense of what each man means to the other. Flashbacks and fantasy shots give us an inside look at backstory and characters’ thoughts, but they don’t do anything meaningful. I’m not totally sure why the film was rated X (the rating has since been changed to R), but I suspect there are dark, sinister things going on in those flashbacks, only I can’t say what, because I don’t understand much of what I saw.

Anyway, who would have guessed that young Jon Voigt was kind of a poor man’s Robert Redford? This is my biggest takeaway: that Voigt is an actor whose early work may be worth a look. Hoffman is solid in a Hoffman-like way, but that’s no surprise, and honestly, I don’t know that I would put this in my top five Hoffman roles.

While I don’t see this as essential viewing, it’s worth checking out, if only for some cultural literacy.


Dustin Hoffman Films I’ve Seen, Ranked

I guess I haven’t seen as many as I thought I have. Titles are divided in tiers. Something like very good, good, okie-dokie, and just north of bad.

hoffmanAll the President’s Men (1976)
Rainman (1988)
Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Tootsie (1982)
Barney’s Version (2010)

Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Hero (1992)
The Graduate (1967)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Outbreak (1995)
Wag the Dog (1997)