Monday, July 26, 2010

Boogie Nights

We follow Burt Reynolds, who played the municipal judge in Mystery, Alaska, over to the monstrosity of a film called Boogie Nights. I am a big fan of Paul Tomas Anderson. He has only made one film I did not like. Ufortuately for you, that film is Boogie Nights.

The film isset I the “Golden Age of Porn,” aka the late ’70’s-early ’80’s. Burt Reynolds plays Jack Horner, a producer of adult films who turns a high school drop out, dishwasher and male prostitute Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) into a major adult film star. For two and a half hours, we watch the hum drum, glamorized world of adult filmmaking simultaneously with Diggler’s descent ito drug addiction.

The ensemble cast around Wahlberg is top notch, with actors like William H. Macy, john C. Reilly, Luis Guzman, Julianne Moore, and Don Cheadle attempting to bring a certain dignity to the adult film industry by struggling with their own mundane problems as they work at becoming adult film stars. But it is just not compelling viewig for me.

Okay, Heather Graham as Roller Girl was compelling. But otherwise, nada.

I am completely uninterested in Southern California hedonism, whether it is glamorized or shown warts and all as it is here, so Boogie Nights is not my cup of tea. I think many of the accolades the film has received over the years is because it fares to deal with a controversial subject I an artsy way. Cannot say I care about such things, particularly when a cadre of adult film actors are presented asa pseudo family.

That is what gets me most about the film. Diggler is a troubled child, already as low in life as one can get, with Horner as his surrogate father. Diggler runs off, is nearly killed in a hate crime attack, then comes back to Horner to live happily ever after. Or die of AIDS, which seems the more likely outcome. The end result is not the Manson family, but it is really close.

It is an unpleasant experience watching low class people abuse themselves in a prurient business. I am sorely disappointed with Anderson. Everyone is entitled a fumble here and there, but Boogie Nights is such unpleasant viewing, callig it a fumble is an insult to football.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mystery, Alaska

Our last Russell Crowe film for a while is the quirky 1999 comedy, Mystery, Alaska. Written by the prolific television writing guru David E. Kelley ad directed by Jay Roach, the film attracted a impressive cast of comedic actors, such as Hank Azaria, Mary McCormick, and Burt Reynolds. One woders if the critical acclaim of Northern Exposure, about the goings on in another strange Alaska town, had something to do with that.

The film is about the hockey-mad town of Mystery, Alaska. When their local team is featured in a Sports Illustrated article, they get the chance to play an exhibition game against the New York Rangers.

If you have ever seen a sports movie, you know exactly what is going to happen. The team of misfits has to come together. The unlikeliest player gets cut, but earns a chance to make a come back because that is the right thing to do. The townsfolk go crazy because of the exposure to the outside world and, of course, everyone is winner in spite of the final score.

None of the New York Rangers agreed to star in the film and phooey on them for that. While it is a very predictable story, the film is an enjoyable little film with quite a few laughs. Certainly not a classic--have you ever even heard of it/-- but a good way to spend an idle evening.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gladiator

We follow Russell Crowe over one step and down a couple notches of quality to Galdiator, the 2000 Best Picture Oscar winner which thanks its lucky stars the competition was weak that year.

Crowe plays Maximus, a loyal Roman general who is betrayed when the emperor is killed by his ambitious, but psychotic son, Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix. Maximus fids himself bound into slavery and must fight his way up the gladiatorial ranks in order to avenge his his family and his emperor

The battle sequences are intensely exciting and Phoenix is a particular stand out as the evil Commodus, but there is nothing that elevates Gladiator to the level of classic it was touted to be. It certainly does not rise to the level of epic that Spartacus or Beh Hurr managed in the old days of Hollywood. As proof, I note the genre revival never got off the ground in the ’00’s because of Gladiator as many critics predicted.

Glaiator is a good action film. A guy movie with a brain, as it were. But beyond being a night’s worth of frivolous entertainment, there is not much else there. Gladiator is going to go down as the same kind of Best Picture Oscar winner as 2005’s Crash--the answer to a trivia question no one can ever get right.

Gladiator launched Crowe into stardom. For that, I am grateful. Her has had much better roles subsequently. I believe the character of Maximus has been puffed up over the years because of it.

Ratig: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Beautiful Mind

We follow Jennifer Connelly over to hr Oscar winning performance as Alice Nash in 2002’s A Beautiful Mind.

A Beautiful Mind is a fictionalized account of the life of mathematician John Nash, a brilliant mathematician suffering from delusional psychosis. A Beautiful Mind is not a literal biography of Nash, but rather an often surreal presentation of events seen through Nash’s mentally disturbed mind. The film has been criticized in certain quarters for utilizing this method of storytelling, but I think it adds, rather than takes away from Nash’s story.

It is difficult to present metal illness o screen without being exploitive. Witness my complaint about the failures of presenting brain damage earnestly in Regarding Henry, for example. A Beautiful Mind stands in stark contrast to Regarding Henry in terms of effectively putting us in the shoes of a mental illness sufferer. Because that is what the narrative literally does with increasing awareness something is not right with what wear seeing.

The reality of the story is neither exploitive or sensational. It is, in fact, a realistic love story between John and Alice, who have to deal with the no win situation of tolerating the side effects of Nash’s medical treatment or suffering through the consequences of not doing so for the sake of Nash maintaining some semblance of his genius and humanity.

Beforehand, I would have said Russell Crowe was a peculiar choice to play Nash, but he comes through with the role splendidly. The performances all around are great, from Paul Bellamy as ash’s “roommate” at Princeton to Ed Harris’ federal agent contact for Nash, and Connelly’s performance. As I said above, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I hate to take anything away from her here, but I suspect her win was one of those compensation wins for overlooking her in more deserving roles in the past.

A Beautiful Mind is a good film, but not a great one. I wad dragged off to see it my first year of law school when other classmates who had done nothing but rave about the film for weeks were appalled I had not seen what had apparently replaced Citizen Kane as the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time. I enjoyed it, ye, but still cannot quite rate it as highly as many of my friends do.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, July 19, 2010

House of Sand and Fog

We follow Jennifer Connelly from her underrated turn as Betty Ross in Hulk to a small, but bitter little pill she starred in the same year called House of Sand and Fog.

Connelly plays Kathy Nicole. She is both the protagonist and antagonist of the film. Nicole is a recovering drug addict who is suffering from severe depression because her husband left her. In her unresponsive state, she ignores a number of delinquent tax notices from the county o the tiny beach house she inherited from her father. She only realizes she owes any taxes when the police come to forcibly evict her.

Whe the county puts the house up for sale, it is purchased by Massoud Amri Bahrani, a former Iranian colonel who served under the shah and fled during the revolution. He is played wonderfully by Ben Kingsley. Bahrani keeps up the appearance of being a respectable businessman I order to not shame himself or his family. He is in fact a lowly convenience store clerk. But the purchase of the beach house for a fraction of its value helps build up his wounded pride.

The sale of the house puts the two on a collision course in which I went back and forth sympathizing and despising them both. They are both sympathetic characters who are victims of circumstance, yet their frustrated reactions to their problems are appalling. Nicole will do anything to get her house back, including manipulating a corrupt sheriff named Lester (Ron Eldard) in a loveless marriage to harass Bahrani. Bahrani himself has been so beaten down by life, he brutalizes his family to soothe the assaults on his manhood.

The real tragedy strikes when an terrible I would rather not spoil bonds Nicole and Bahrai, yet Lester misunderstands it all and bullies Bahrani into giving back the house against both his and Nicole’s wishes. Bhrani loses far more than the house, which prompts him to commit the ultimate tragic act of killing his family and himself.

The only reason I am willing to spoil that point is because the movie does, too, right off the bat, then tells the story in flashback. The only point I really dislike about House of Sand and Fog is that the film starts with the aftermath of Bahrani’s final act of desperation. It takes much of the sting out of the story when you know how he an his family wind up. Why filmmakers insist upon using that storytelling technique is beyond me. If you are going to blow the ending in the first scene, you need to give us one heck of a journey up until that point.

Fortunately, House of Sand and Fog delivers in that regard. The way I was emotionally manipulated by these characters is a experience I have not often had watching a movie. It is painful to watch, very depressing, and will stick with you for days after viewing. But I highly recommend it.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hulk

Today, we follow Eric Bana from Munich to 2003’s version of the Hulk by Ang Lee.

I grew up a big comic book fan. One of the things we have consistently suffered through is the poor translation of our favorite characters from the four colored page to the big screen. The problem s reasonable--the characters have to be altered to appeal to a mass audience, not just geeky fan boys-- but recent times have introduced a golden age of super hero films faithful to the comics. You have a generation of filmmakers who grew up o comics to thank for that.

Ang Lee is not one of those comic book fans turned filmmaker and his Hulk is a blight on the genre during a otherwise glorious time.

What bothers me is that I went to the theater expecting a popcorn munching summer thriller experience, but got an uncomfortably dark exploration of severe child abuse with all its consequences. I might have been fine with that, too, but the elements were an awkward fit with the rest of the story.

Within the last twenty years or so, it has been added to the Hulk’s mythology that Bruce Banner and his mother were brutally abused by his father. The Hulk is a personification of the childhood rage over his helplessness. The subject has been treated wit much care and aspect over the years. Said care and respect has elevated the character far beyond the, “Hulk smash puny human!” days when the comic often languished in the doldrums.

I suspect the average moviegoers does not know that,however, and went to the film expecting high adventure. Heck, I did know that, but I was still expecting more fun.

The problem can be summer up with the following anecdote. I went to see Hulk o a whim when I saw it was playing at an afternoon matinee on my way to Taco Bell. I had a day off from summer session of classes at Regent Law and I just decided to go alone to see it. About 35 minutes into the film, I heard a little bot whisper to his father, ’Is the Hulk gonna how up now?”

The question gave me a realization then and one later. The first realization was it is a terrible summer action movie when the title character does not even appear util the movie is a third of the way over. The later realization came when the flashbacks of abuse began playing a dominant role. Then I wondered why anyone would bring a child to see this movie. I was 26 and jaded as all get out, but I did not wat to see it, either.

Hulk fails for me big time. The action is not fun. The drama was not compelling. It made me feel traumatized myself. I still have a difficult time with the existential ending. Not of that belongs in a summer super hero movie.

I will give the film two kudos. One, the special effects were good. The Hulk bears an uncanny resemblance to Eric Bana, which is a nice touch. You might even thik the special effect sequences are worth seeing the movie for. Be my guest, but brace yourself for what the movie is really about. The other kudo goes to Nick Nolte for playing the abusive Brian Banner. He is an unappealing character, but Nolte plays him to the hilt.

But you should skip Hulk altogether. Ang lee is usually a great director, but he missed the mark badly here.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Munich

As our sojourn into Indiana Jones mercifully ends, we follow director Steven Spielberg over to 2005’s Munich, the fictionalized account of an Israeli team sent to assassinate members of the Palestinian Black September in retaliation for murdering te Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 games.

Spielberg walks a fine line with Munich. He honestly does not inject his personal politics into the film. Much like Schindler’s List, the emphasis of the story is on the human cost of war. It is brave for Spielberg because he does question the wisdom of the Old Testament eye for an eye instant revenge for wrongs suffered because such a policy may lead to perpetual acts of retaliation. A knee jerk viewer reaction may claim Spielberg is equating Israel’s actions with those of the Palestinian terrorists.

I will grant Munich possesses a certain naïve tone on the subject of retaliation. There is a definite peacenik streak running through it. But I do not see a blunt denunciation of retaliation, either.

The whole operation is seen as a dirty, but necessary business. As the Mossad and Black September wage a covert war across Europe, the assassination squad members balance the concern for their families safety with their obligation to leave a big enough impression to discourage further terrorist attacks. For instance, the team plans to kill one terrorist with a bomb because an explosion would be flashier than a bullet. That is balancing personal concerns with duty and leaving it up to the audience to decide how they feel about it.

I knew going into the film that Munich is a fictionalized account intended to serve as a thriller rather than an historical piece. It certainly delivers as one. It is a great effort at tightening the screws. Where Munich fails is it lack of heart. The main charactersarerelatively generic. I had a tough time even recalling who was who at times. How am I supposed to feel for these characters when I can barely keep them straight?

By the time I put the DVD back on the shelf, I had already forgotten about any moral debate over the efficacy of retaliation. I was focusing on the intensity of the story instead. Somehow, I suspect that is not how I am supposed to react. But I did enjoy the thriller aspects, so I do not feel cheated. Truth be told, I am relieved to find an entertaining action movie after a long dry spell.

I doubt I will be spoiling the ending too badly at any rate, but final scene and post script were apparently sending an odd message. The movie ends on the New York skyline of the mid-’70’s, World Trade Center and all. The a post-script notes that 9 of 11 Black September terrorists were killed. Is that supposed to be a warning to Americans about the dangers of retaliating against Al Qeada? Very tacky addition to the film if so.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The criticism towards The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has become so brutal, to add much of anything would be piling on. Steven Spielberg himself has all but said hedid not want to make the film. Shia LaBeouf has publicly trashed the movie as being an overblown special effects piece with no story--and this guy starred in Michael bay’s Transformers without complaint.

What can you say about a film whose biggest legacy is adding “nuke the fridge,” a phrase meaning something in a movie so incredulous, it ruins the rest of the viewing experience, to the lexicon?

I can echo LaBeouf--there is too much unnecessary CGI. Gophers? Really, George Lucas? I actually felt saddened comparing the obvious blue screen backgrounds verses the actual sets used in the original films. I am not going to adamantly recommend The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull period, but I sorely advise you to not watch any all the previous films prior. By comparison, old fashioned art desin runs rings around CGI.

The story reminds me of the same problems that plagued Temple of Doom. I think alien artifacts are just as distant and difficult to care about as pagan stones from a death cult. The communists do not make as good a villains as the Nazis, either. It is more than just that too much time has passed since the end of the Cold War. These commies were too generic. Where is that godless, evil empire? The best Indiana Jones films played up the good versus evil dynamic with spiritual overtones. The worst two left those out completely.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tried hard to be a nostalgia piece, but its lack of heart only reminds me of how much better Indiana Jones used to be. They should have left it as a trilogy.

So what happened? To state the most obvious, it is next to impossible to accept a 65 year old grave robber is is still involved in such high adventure. The last couple years have seen some pitiful efforts by aging actors to continue with their usual rounds with mixed results. I am not one to make a general statement that there is a definite time to get off the stage, but I admire it when entertainers figure it out for themselves. Jack Nicholson can no longer play a counter culture icon. He knows. Sean Connery can no longer play an action hero/ladies man. he knows it. But Sylvester Stallone has no clue he can no longer play a boxer or mercenary. Mick Jagger cannot prance around on stage singing about sex. They both might break a hip. Sad to say, I doubt Harrison Ford can still play a swashbuckler.

But to state something a little less obvious, no matter how much talent is attached to a movie- --and it does not get much more loaded with talent than Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford-- when it has lingered in production hell for fifteen years, not much good can come of it. Fans actually split the time periods of production into eras. There was a time in the early ’90’s when the`story was going to revolve around Atlantis, but Ford wanted to hung up the fedora. Then came word Kevin Costner might be added to the cast as Indy’s brother, but Lucas was off making the Star Wars prequels, so that fell through. Then there was going to be a remaining with Ben freaking Affleck as Indiana. Sheesh.

There were so many scripts floating about by even top notch writers like Tom Stoppard, penning an Indy script became a rite of passage for screenwriters. At comic book and science fiction convention, you would here at least a half dozen claims someone had read a script by the latest hot writer and just knew that was going to be the script. I am certain hardly any of that was true, but if you spend even a few minutes on Google looking, you can find all sorts of scripts for the fourth Indy. None apparently managed to satisfy the big three until now.

But what do we have in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull besides an incredibly confusing acronym? )IJ&TKotCS) An aging action hero too old to believably do all the running, jumping, and fighting necessary to pull off the role, flavor of the moment Shia LaBeouf as a costar, and communists and aliens as bad guys. No matter how many good stories were set during the Cold War, commies do not make as good a villains as Nazis and Indy is supposed to fight Nazis. He has sought the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, two symbols of pure goodness, in battling the pure evil of Nazism. Commies are a big step back. Aliens? It sounds like we are heading into Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider territory with the Illuminati seeking a time control device for no clear purpose whatsoever. There are too many head scratchers here for Indy to be the huge hit everyone, including me, was hoping for.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones ad the Last Crusade is my favorite of the entire series. Steven Spielberg has gone on record assaying he took steps to return the series back to its Raiders of the Lost Ark roots for the “final" film. It shows.

All of my criticisms of Temple of Doom are specifically addressed. The toe is much lighter, yet still compelling. The Nazi have returned as the villains, so we have clearly defined bad guys we can root against. Finally, the point of interest in the Holy Grail, an item of Christendom with which we can relate much better than some mystical stones stolen by a death.

The Last Crusade has more of a personal touch than the other two in the original trilogy. Spielberg brings in his daddy issues with Henry Joes’, Sr. not having been around much after his wife died, preferring to immerse himself in his work at the expense of his son.

Sean Connery is perfectly cast as Henry Jones, Sr. The abandance of former James Bond players in featured roles is also a nice touch, as I the subtle joke that Indiana is the son of James Bond.

The eventual easing of friction between Henry and Indiana caused by Henry’s obsession with finding the Holy Grail is made all the more poignant when he is willing to let it go in order to save his son in the end. Father/son tension often devolves into cliche in popular entertainment, so I appreciate when it is done well.

It is further inspired to begin the movie with Indiana as a teenager, played by the late rier Phoenix, in order to show both just how early Indiana’s penchant from troublesome adventure started as well as the alienation from his cold father. I was never able to get into The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles because of how much I wanted the sequence to stand alone.

Phoenix carried the Indiana bullwhip mighty well in the opening action scenes. I think The Last Crusade has consistently the best and most amusig action scenes of the series. They arespaced out by good storytelling unlike being padded with the gross out elements of Temple of doom.

Well, save for the Nazi who drinks from the wrong goblet in the climax. His transformation gave me the heebie jeebies for weeks afterwards. What a geat, iconic scene, no? It contributed to earning The Last Crusade a PG-13 rating, the only film in thefrancise to do so. Ironic, sense the intense elements of Temple of Doom contributed to the MPAA developing the PG-13 rating in the first place.

The Last Crusade is big action, big adventure, and big heart. In hindsight it should have been the end of Indiana Jones period. I have a tough time wondering why we clamored for twenty years for another one. After the Star Wars prequels, we should have known we would wind up with CGI gophers and dumb aliens.

I would much rather have had my last memories of Indiana riding off into the sunset to the "Raider’s March.”

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the most surprising sequel I have ever seen in terms of difference with the original. The film has a much darker tone, reportedly because George Luca wanted to capitalize on his success with the darker The Empire Strikes Back. He brought in screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to replace Raiders of the Lost Ark writer Lawrence Kasan. The results are… mixed.

Temple of Doom is a point of nostalgia for me and pretty much any guy close to my age. We loved Raiders of the Lost Ark and were excited for a sequel…any sequel. Temple of Doom delivered with breathtaking action and a lot of classic scenes. But we all knew it fell short of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The perspective offered by the passage of time has helped illuminate the problems, as has the subsequent The Last Crusade and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Those are other reviews I will get to later. Temple of Doom is not a sacred cow like the other two films in the original trilogy. Let us deal with that for now.

The first thing that strikes me is the story is difficult to connect with emotionally. Raiders of the Lost Ark had Nazi villains seeking a Biblical artifact. That is clearly a theme of pure evil and pure good. Temple of Doom involves Indiana searching for some pagan stones ad stumbles across a death cult with supernatural abilities.

I am not terribly prudish about using demonic forces as villains , I do appreciate less ambiguity in their origin. Is this stuff real or voodoo hokum? Why not tell us? Spielberg and Lucas used divine power as the mean to defeat the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark and will do so again in The Last Crusade. Why not pull the trigger here? Stop with the hell allegory and just say this is a Satanic cult Indiana is battling. At least we could relate more to that.

It feels strange that Short Round shows up without explanation as a kid with apparently a longstanding relationship with Indiana. He is thrown in there in order to lead the rebellion of the slave children against their cult captors and never seen or heard from again in any canon or non-canon Indiana Jones material as far as I know. He is an awkward fit because he is just there for a plot point

I bet Short round was a Lucas insistence. Looking back at the Star Wars prequels, I note Lucas has the notion kids fantasize about teaming up with their heroes, so they will want a kid in the movie who does that they can relate to. However, kids are more apt to fantasize about being the hero himself. I do not think characters like Short Round are good additions to movies unless they are more developed and important to the story. Short Round comes up…well, short.

You know you have been jaded by time and circumstance when you rewatch Temple of Doom and realize a movie featuring a 41 year old, single man traveling with a Asian boy would not be made today because it would conjure up images of the child sex trade of Southeast Asia. It probably did then, too, but I was too young in 1984 to know about that sort of sordid thing. Sometimes, I wish I still did not. Studying political science and law while writing for international politics and law journals will teach you some terrible things about this world.

I do not care for Willie as much as I did Marion, either. Kate Capshaw is Steven Spielberg’s wife, so what more is there to say about her casting?

On a more amusing note of how jaded I am in my old age, I laughed watching the mine car chase scene again. As with the droid factory scene in Attack of the Cloes, I realize the sequence is only there to make a theme park ride based on it more popular. The early ’80’s was when cross media promotion really hit it big. Star Wars was just the beginning.

It sounds like I am really trashing Temple of Doom. While it is my least favorite of the original trilogy, it is an iconic film and a big part of my childhood movie experience. It has only diminished over the years because I have gotten more discerning about the flaws in thins of which I used to be uncritical. It is telling that I would enthusiastically sit through Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade again, but cannot imagine the urge to put the Temple of Doom DVD in the player will ever come up again.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

We are going to keep on with birthday boy Harrison Ford, who turns 68 today, for a while. Wow..68. Does that not make you feel old? All my childhood heroes have dentures.

Lest it appear I have been choosing bad movies that I can scribble poison pen reviews about up until this point, today’s film is a classic ’80’s film that set the standard for action adventure in my impressionable young mind--literally. Indiana Jones is a hero I various shades of gray. The guy is a grave robber who does not always fight fair and will kill in cold blood. Because he was one of the first larger than life characters I remember from my youth, I have always assumed that is what heroes have to be like. The boy scout types have always been corny because of my attitude.

Harrison Ford plays Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, a professor of archeology who often risks his neck in exotic places in order to steal rare artifacts. I use the term steal deliberately. As is pointed out to Indiana at one point, he is only one gentle push away from playing the bad guy. We only root for him because he is the lesser of two evils.

The greater evil is, of course, the Nazis. They are searching for the Ark of the Covenant, which will grant their armies invincibility. We certainly cannot have invincible Nazi armies marching across the planet.

Steven Spielberg planned for Indiana Jones to serve as homage to the action serials of the ’30’s. As one who has a more than passing interest in such serial, I will attest he and George Lucas well succeeded with Raiders. I am inclined to think subsequent installments took on their own “Indiana Jones” feel rather than imitating classic serials and did so with varying degrees o success, but that is an argument for another time.

In addition to the white knuckle, ever a dull moment action, I appreciate the light hearted elements, such as Indiana’s troubles doing nothing but increasing in every action scene and the tweaks of action movie cliché. At one point, Indians knocks out a Nazi and steals his uniform, but it does not fit. How many times have you seen stolen clothe serve asa perfect fit? I snickered when Owen Wilson lucked out in my Behind Enemy Lines review a few days ago.

Raiders is an iconic movie. Everyone remembers the giant boulder scene, which was filmed twenty times before they got it right, the initial escape from the angry natives, the shooting of the swordsmen, Nazi faces being melted off, and the final scene in which top men are investigating the Ark. It is difficult to criticize film that is so well imprinted on our psyche. Fortunately, I do not have to. It is about the most perfect '80's movie.

Can you picture Tom Selleck in the title role? I cannot.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Regarding Henry

We are sticking with J. J. Abrams as screenwriter today with Regarding Henry. The movie is typical of the habit I the early ’90’s of presenting a complex issue as a sweet, but implausible fairy tale. It is in the vein of Pretty Woman, where a handsome, wealthy businessman falls in love with a hooker and we root for it to happen. What Pretty Woman is to true romance, Regarding Henry is to finding redemption after being an awful person one’s entire life.

Harrison Ford stars as Henry Turner, an nasty, unethical, and greedy lawyer who treats everyone like garbage in his quest to get ahead. While going out for cigarettes one night--see how evil he is? He smokes, too!-- he stumbles unto a convenience store robbery. He is shot twice; once in the head and once in the chest. He suffers brain damage from both the head wound and lack of oxygen to the brain because his lung is pierced by the bullet. There is the double whammy to explain why he both loses his memory, inhibitions, and a great deal of his intelligence.

Henry goes from a completely speechless, paralyzed invalid to a something akin to a sweet child during the second act. The journey is a blatant tug at the heartstrings . It is difficult to get into because Henry was such a jerk before, he is not really sympathetic. I feel bad for his wife and daughter, which is dangerous thing for the audience to do considering subsequent story twists.

Basically, the attempt to tug at the heartstrings is so manipulative, I resented the manipulation.

After his rehab, Henry goes home. He now views everything with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. Well, he basically is one now. Henry becomes such an agreeable, saccharine character, I was turn between wondering how long before his wife was oigto dump him for a normal man while a big, flashing sign fell from the ceiling saying, “Pity Henry! Pity Hery now!”

Obviously, his firm hands him frivolous office boy work and his friends mock him for his new mental state. Worse yet, it is revealed his wife was having an affair before his accident, which turns out to be okay because he was, too. They reconcile. He even reveals to the opposing party in his last legal case how he was screwing them over. Total fairy tale ending.

I am blowing it all here because if you did not see the sitcom level twists and turns coming a mile away, my revealing them will not spoil your enjoyment should you ever decide to see Regarding Henry.

The only highlight is Harrison Ford. He takes a big risk. He is not only essentially playing two characters, the latter is an overgrown child. Not I a frat boy sort of way, which can go over the top for laughs, but he fall into offensive stereotype. In the real world, Henry could be institutionalized without much argument.

It is a stretch to assume his wife, the kind of woman who was carrying on an affair anyway, would stick by him. Just to emphasize the point, she sends their daughter off to an elite prep school against his wishes just to get her out of the way. The wife was played by Annette Benning, who was touted by critics as a bright newcomer. But she completely changes her tune by the end no matter her circumstances, past or future. They had to be talking about future potential. She is not a real person here.

I did not really like Regarding Henry. This sort of story has been done far better. Blame it on the material and execution. Ford and Benning did not have much with which to work. Regarding Henry consists of maudlin Lifetime movie of the week quality material that somehow made it to the big screen. I am disappointed with it.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Armageddon

Our last Owen Wilson film for the foreseeable future is Armageddon. Wilson played Oscar, one of the least colorful characters in an adventure which lacked a lot of color in the first place. No one will blame you if you forgot he was even in it.

Armageddon came along in 1998 when Hollywood had been grasping to find on-controversial, but still compelling villains. The Cold War was over, Nazis had been played out, and political correctness eliminated just about every other possibility. Movies of the time period were filled with terminators, dinosaurs, bland aliens, and, finally, killer asteroids. The result was largely style over substance. Lots of neat special effects, but tin narrative glue holding them together.

Armageddon is a perfect example. A asteroid the size of Texas dubbed a planet killer is hurtling towards Earth. NASA, apparently having seen the far superior The Abyss, call on a crew of misfit oil rig workers to receive astronaut training, land on the asteroid, and blow it off its trajectory in order to save Earth.

The human element--what little there is--is the romance between AJ Frost (Ben Affleck) and Grace Stamper (Liv Tyler), the daughter of the main character, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis.) Harry does not want his daughter marrying a roughneck like himself, but he comes around in the end in predictably heroic fashion for a movie like this. AJ and Grace have the only real relationship.

I probably would not feel that way I the editing of Armageddon was not so lightning fast. Scenes are brief and manic, many exist only for a punch line which oten isnot funny, and are disconnected from one another. There is very little narrative flow. The whole thing is cut like an extended trailer rom some other movie.

The action sequences towards the end are fun to watch on the big screen. They lose something on television. I have mixed emotions telling you that. Armageddon was the loudest, most intense experience I ever had in a theater. Most unpleasant, really, because I was not prepared for the roller coaster ride. Yet the television experience diminishes the action. I cannot be satisfied either way, which tells me there is a flaw within Armageddon’s execution.

Along with the special effects, I am going to give some props to Billy Bob Thornton as the NASA administrator. This guy can convincingly play a brain damaged redneck and the head of NASA convincingly without ever relying on stereotypes to complete the character. Kudos to him.

But not to much else. With the pacing, I had a difficult time building up any sympathy for the characters. I never doubted AJ and Grace would wind up together even in the best relationship presented. There was no time to feel a sense of dread for Earth’s doom. I cannot describe the personalities of the characters who died. By the time we got to the most heartfelt, bittersweet moment, I was just ready to leave the theater and have a quiet moment so my ears would stop ringing.

Michael Bay is a terrible director of mindless shlock. By making Armageddon a hit, moviegoers doomed us to a decade and counting of more of the same mindless junk. I cannot imagine J. J. Abrams, the mind behind Felicity, Lost, and Fringe, intended for his script to turn into a jumbled music mess with no heart, but that it what it is.

I am goig to give Armageddon three stars regardless of all the criticism. If you are an action movie fan, it is good for one viewing. But a little goes a long way. There is nothing to merit a repeat viewing. All you will ever remember about it is a favorite special effects shot or two--assuming you were quick enough to catch it before before they rapidly went unto something else.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines

Staying with Owen Wilson, we find him in one of his dramatic turn as a half-hearted Navy pilot shot down over Bosnia. While struggling to make it cross country to a rescue point, he uncovers evidence of a massacre committed by a Serbian general.

The plot is loosely based on the Bosnian War which raged in the ’90’s. Some of the connections are laughably. The actual peace agreement ending the war was called the Dayton Accord. I the movie, it is the Cincinnati Accord. Why thecae? Your guess is as good as mine. The similarities between Owen Wilson’s character’s (Chris Bennett) plight and that of Scott O’Grady, an American pilot shot down over Bosnia in 1995 and survived for six days before being rescued, wee enough to prompt O’Grady to sue the producers for defamation. He probably just did no want to be associated with this dud.

Neither did the Serbs. No Serbian actors wanted to take part in the production because of the strong anti-Serbian themes. All Serbian characters were played by Croats and Russian, often with pigeon Serb dialogue.

Bennett fails into all the usual action movie cliché: he flies into hails of ten thousand bullets while never getting hit, but never misses himself.. He knocks out a Serbian soldier and takes his uniform. It happens to fit him perfectly. He even takes off the ski mask before he is completely out of danger just to reveal to the audience it is him. His final Tarzan-esque act as he is being rescued is laugh out loud funny, but not in a good way.

I cannot believe Gene Hackman would star in this junk as Bennett‘s commanding officer. I also cannot figure out while the military cooperated with its filming. A real admiral would never jeopardize his career by rescuing Bennett personally. I cannot imagine Bennett himself would reconsidered hero after his abandonment of his co-pilot to radio for help gets him killed. But there is a neatly packaged, happy ending regardless.

There are a million similar action films out there. I daresay the vast majority are far, far better. Some exciting moments happen, but they are overshadowed by the movie’s obvious flaws. If it is any consolation to the producers, Behind Enemy Lines is still far better than its direct to video sequels.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Starsky and Hutch

We are sticking with Ben Stiller as we head over to Starsky and Hutch, the 2004 spoof of the ultra cool cop show from the ’70’s. by way of confession, I do not believe I have seen n episode of the show in over twenty years. I vaguely remember an plot with Starsky being kidnapped by a Satanic cult, but that only because a Bob Jones rubberstamped teacher of mine back in elementary school once used it as an example of how popular culture glorified Satan. As if we were rooting for Satan over Starsky. As a direct spoof, much of the movie is lost on me. I am not familiar with the show and have to appreciate the movie on its own merits.

Fortunately, I do. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, Starsky and Hutch, respectively, play off each other well.

I do know enough to realize their character personalities have been juxtaposed. Starsky isa tough, by the book cop while Hutch is a laid back, never grown up Frat boy. On the series, it was the exact opposite. Is that supposed to be part of the joke? Huggy Bear, played like a cay street philosopher by rapper Snoop Dogg, acts more like the glue that holds the cops friction filled partnership together through this, their first assignment.

The two begin investigating a drug ring run by Reese Feldman. (Vince Vaughn) Feldman has developed astrain of cocaine that is undetectable by smell or taste and plans to ship millions of dollars worth into Bay City. Our heroes ru the investigation from when a Feldman associate’s corpse washes ashore until the point the drugs are to be delivered hidden in the grad prize at a charity ball.

I assume many of the twists are homage to elements of the original series. The only one I readily recognized was Hutch’s guitar plying on a song that actually was released by David Soul in a brief foray into music. I hear he was big in Germany. Since I laughed at the sequence knowing what it was tweaking , I have probably missed a few layers of other jokes. Whether that is true, I did laugh often and appreciated the ’70’s kitsch.

Starsky and Hutch is not great by any means, especially if--beat that dead horse--the show does not mean anything to you. But it is light, funny entertainment with a real chemistry between the stars. Everyone acts like they are having a good time. Even the originals, Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, show up to cap it all off on a happy. Happy except for the thought I had that Soul had died years ago. Where did I get that idea from?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

There's Something About Mary

We follow the Farrelly Brothers over to There’s Something About Mary. I have only reviewed two comedies thus far and disliked them both. I order to prove I do have a sense of humor, here is a comedy I actually like.

You may be inclined to accuse me of hypocrisy. Yesterday, I blasted Dumb and Dumber for its slapstick and gross out humor, both of which are abundant in There’s Something About Mary. What raises the movie up a notch or two is the main characters of Mary Matthews (Camero Diaz) and Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller.) they are far more likable than Harry and Lloyd. I actually care whether these two wind up happily ever after.

I am certain the different dynamic plays a factor. Harry and Lloyd were unsympathetic doofuses, unintentionally mean spirited, but man spirited in their stupidity nevertheless. In There’s Something About Mary, has decent motivations--he wants a private detective to track down his almost prom date whom he isstill I love with--but all sorts of rotten things happen to him along the way. I can appreciate that. Make me care about the character and hi goal, then force him up a tree and throw rocks at him.

The main bad guy of the movie is the sleazy private detective, Pat Healy (Matt Dillon.) He finds Mary, but falls for her, too. He then tries every dirty trick in the book to win her affection while keeping Stroehmann at bay.

The twist is pretty much every guy falls for Mary. Each has his own less than savory way of trying to woo her. I found their competition often tasteless, but very hilarious. Do appreciate the compliment for what it is. Cameron Diaz does not do it for me, so to convincingly make her the obsessive object of affection of numerous guys is no small feat.

The film ends with the pay off on the running gag of who Mary’s ex Brett really is, the fourth wall gets broken to good effect, and there is a typical Hollywood happy ending that you can see coming if you haveever seen any movie about a good guy chasing after his true love. There’s Something About Mary is a no brainer, but its bawdy, political incorrectness is a joy to behold.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dumb & Dumber

I have gotten into the habit of posting regular features on my main blog in other to keep the creative juices flowing. Structure and schedules work best for me. It sounded like good idea to plan Apocalypse Cinema in a similar way, so I have created a master list of movies to review.

Each one will be vaguely connected to the next through an actor or production member. Occasionally, there will be a string of films featuring the same actor or production member in a row. It took a while to make a varied list, but you would be surprised how the chain can evolve.

Today, we follow Jeff Daniels from his relatively minor sidekick role in Speed to a major turn as part of the Dumb and Dumber duo. Whether he is the dumb or dumber one, I leave for you to decide.

True confession--I am not much of a Jim Carrey fan. At least not a fan of his early work in bawdy, gross out humor. Back in his early days of fame, he was trying too hard to remain the hyper kinetic comedian he was on In Living Color. he was fine on the show for six minute stretches. He was not so great making his butt talk for an hour and a half. It too me until The Truman Show the guy could do anything worth seeing.

So I did not get into Dumb and Dumber. I laughed exactly twice. Once, whem Lloyd (Jim Carrey) blew the last bit of money he and Harry (Jeff Daniels) had on a foam cowboy hat, a box of pinwheels, and porno mags instead of groceries. The joke established the pair are stupid. I get it. But most of the jokes remaining are in the same vein. The second time I laughed was when the endangered owl was killed by the flying champagne cork. That was like a Three Stooges gag. You cannot help but laugh.

But the rest of the film was just so unamusing. It just did not have a heart. The two are heading cross country to return a briefcase full of money to a woman (Lauren Holly) Lloyd fell in love with when he drove her to the airport in his limo. We are not really supposed to care if he and Lloyd ever hook up. It is all about the comedic mess he and Harry’s stupidity get them into. But the slapstick, gross out humor fell flat for me. It was not enough to carry the story for me.

It turns out lloys and Harry stumbled onto an extortion plot which they inadvertently help break up. Unfortunately, they have also spent every dime of the money. Lloyd loses the girl too. She already has a fellow. Drat.

In spite of what I have said, I loathe to give Dumb and Dumber too bad a rating. Some critics called Carrey the next Jerry Lewis after watching the film. I recognize that is meant to be high praise, but I am not a Lewis fan, either. Dumb and Dumber is also considered a classic in the buddy film genre for which I can only name a couple interesting entries. So I am going to have to take a step back and observe how well the film was made and where it fits into the genre. With that in mind, Dumb and Dumber gets the job done.
Just not for me.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Speed

The recent death of Dennis Hopper prompted me to go looking for one of his movies to review. Speed would not be the one which normally comes to mind, but many of his other roles are too emotionally draining for me to watch right now. I am sure I will get around to Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet in due time. Easy Rider, probably not. We shall see.

Hopper plays Howard Payne, a former member of the Atlanta police’s bomb squad. He lot a finger in a mistake disarming a bomb and retired to California. Obviously, retirement did not suit him, because instead of taking up golf or fishing, he decides to plat bombs and demand ransom money for not setting them off.

When we first meet him, he has rigged an executive elevator full of people to blow. Keanu Reeves as Jack Traven and Jeff Daniels as Harry Temple rom the LAPD bomb squad respond. Jack rescues the hostages, then prevents Harry from eing taken by payne by shooting him in the leg.

How many lawsuits do we have here? Let me count them…

The initial action set up pits Traven against Payne as archenemies for the duration. Payne’s most extravagant plot for Traven to foil is placing a bomb on a bus set to explode if it goes less than fifty miles an hour. Naturally, the bus driver is taken out of the equation, so Traven has to recruit a passenger to keep them all alive.

This being Hollywood, the passenger is the most beautiful woman onboard. She happens to be Annie Porter a terrible driver in the. Porter is played by Sandra Bullock. This is the role that made her America’s sweetheart. Mine, too. She is a class act. Purrty, too.

The scenario sets up some of the wildest action sequences I have ever seen. May are grossly implausible. I knew a bus could never ump a fifty foot gap in the freeway, but ls fid enough open road in Los Angeles traffic to keep rolling at fifty mph in the first place, but I was so caught up in the white knuckle ride, I did nor care. Nor did it bother me to shift to a subway car held hostage. In some lesser movies, I would have considered that a tack on. Overkill. But here, it is all part of the fun.

Speed is a good movie. Keanu Reeves squandered his chance to use it as a launching pad for a career as an action star. There is a five year gap there before he found big success as Neo in The Matrix. But Sandra Bullock turns out all right. She is the real star of the film, anyway.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Deadly Ground

I want to like Steven Seagal. In the early ’90’s, he showed a lot of promise in the action genre. His films were not brilliant, mind you, but they got the job done with martial arts, firearms, and explosions. Since then, Seagal has fallen into a rut of infusing his movies with a moral message dear to him. Unfortunately, his efforts have relegated him, with few exceptions, to straight to video junk and a reality show on A & E.

It is sad to watch. Seagal not only acts, but writes, directs, produces, and often contributes to the soundtracks of his own films. He does so with suh conviction, I want to root for him. The problem is he is the quintessential jack of all trades and master of none. whatever message heats to send gets lost in campy filmmaking.

On Deadly Ground is the beginning of Seagal’s downward plue. He plays Forrest Taft, an expert in putting out oil rig fires. He discovers a recent oil rig accident blamed on his friend was actually due to faulty equipment from a corner cutting oil company run by a greedy jackass CEO Michael Jennings.

Jennings is played by Michael Caine, who was apparently again suffering from that momentary loss of reason that made him agree to star in The SwarmBeyond the Poseidon Adventure, and Jaws IV: the Revenge. Poor guy must go off his msds every eight years or so.

Tat is a crusading environmentalist when he is not beating up rednecks in local bars. While Taft indulges in much violent mayhem, explosions, and gunplay in an attempt to suit action fans, it is clear what Seagal really cares about is getting his environmental message out. Said message is that greedy oil companies will destroy anything to make a buck.

Seagal’s intent results in an incredibly obnoxious vanity piece. The oil company is pure evil. Employees at one point torture and old man by first breaking his fingers, then chopping his arms off The graphic scene is as excessive as it is implausibly dumb. The Eskimos threatened by the oil company’s negligence are doe eyed noble savages who send Taft on a vision quest full of naked women to convince him to fight Jennings.

He does, by not only blowing up the company’s oil rig, but lecturing the Alaska legislature to end oil drilling in the state--and they take heed!

Think about that for a minute. Taft just committed a massive act of terrorism by blowing up private property. He probably put hundreds or maybe thousands out of work by doing so. Then hegets to address the legislature to promote urban legends about oil companies suppressing cars that get one hundred miles to the gallon and such. With it, he convinces Alaska to abandon its largest source of revenue.

On second thought, do not think about it. Or see this movie. The action and nudity do not make up for the mind numbing preaching. I try to judge how well an artist presents his message even if I do not agree with it, but Seagal’s environmental sermon is so bad, I cannot deal with it. Even with the naked Eskimos.

Rating; * (out of 5)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

I probably should have picked a better film to review on Independence Day, but sometimes I am eye roll worthy jokes. Today, the mod struck.

Independence Day is a unique animal. It is a science fiction film the general public generally likes but science fiction fans hate. While I would not go so far as to use as strong a word as hate, the film has many glaring flaws that inhibit my enjoyment. Said problems run from the factual to the conceptual.

Independence Day is about first contact with aliens who visit Earth, many people assume they come in peace up until they begin attacking earth’s major cities without provocation. A marine corps pilot played by Will Smith and the umpteenth weird scientist played by Jeff Goldblum team up to save the Earth along with American President and former fighter pilot Bill Pullman.

Independence Day is definitely a movie to watch for the special effects alone. That assumes you can handle the frenetic pace. It is not as hyper kinetic as Armageddon a couple years later, but it is tough to get in on the action is you are not on a sugar high.

Speaking of sugar highs, you need to also be o one to ignore the sheer ignorance involved in the story. I will grant that most people do not know the Marine Corps does not have fighter jets, so that will not bother many people. But does anyone notice these aliens are traveling in ships fifteen miles long? They do not need to engage in a protracted, costly invasion. They can just fly around and let gravity cause huge tidal wives that drown entire coastal populations. Anyone who has sat through junior high earth science could tell you that.

The movie is not internally consistent, either. Each ship can fire a laser beam from the center of its hull which destroys everything in its path. Yet I the final battle, a plane lies up into the beam unharmed in order to destroy a ship. How was it not incinerated?

Then there is the implausible stuff. Area 51 is the most highly defended government facility in the country, ut it does not bother to have bulletproof glass in a room where they are housing a hostile alien. Brilliant.

Those are the factual problem that ought to objectively bug everyone. I have some personal issues. The president is a touchy, feely liberal who, instead of serving as a patriot commanding Americans to take the lead in saving the planet, but speaks of tearing down borders and uniting as one. Marlarky. It was the US Marines that first struck the aliens an the US Air Force that fights them to a standstill. What did the French contribute/ Body odor asa biological weapon? Hardly, but even when Americans are the heroes, it is so politically incorrect, it has to be ignored hoping international audiences will not notice.

Another prolem is the aliens have no motivation. They just want to kill humans. I have no objection to aliens being uniformly evil even though it is cliché. Nor do I mind xenophobia as their rationale generally speaking, but I want their xenophobia to come from a rationale. What have we done to them to make them hate us? Why are we in their way? What do we have they want? Your guess is as good as mine. All they want to do is kill, kill, kill!!!

It is boring. It is dumb. In my opinion, it is not even worth watching for the special effects unless you have not paid much attention to advances in that area. If not, you may still be dazzled. Careful about your brain cells committing mass suicide if you do decide to watch.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In the Line of Fire

Many films and television shows capitalized on the mystique of the JFK assassination during the 30th anniversary of the event in 1993. I recall sitting through a cable movie with Robert Hayes as a time traveler attempting to keep his brother out of Vietnam by saving JFK and an episode of Quantum Leap in which the hero, Sam Beckett, kept bouncing through the life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The assassination is an historical event I can look at without a hint of the baby boomer sentimentality which demands a massive conspiracy be behind the killing of JFK because it just shatters people’s world that a lone nut can end the life of the leader of the free world. I am definitely of the lone gunman school of thought and frankly do not find that particularly interesting, either.

So I get bored easily with the JFK obsession in general, but particularly when it is immersed in conspiracy theories. It takes a lot for me to not zone out with a story relating to the assassination. Fortunately, I gave In the Line of Fire a shot anyway. The movie fires on all cylinders.

Like many of the movies I already have plans to review, I first saw In the Line of Fire as a video release before we put it to rent at my family’s video store sixteen years ago. I liked it, but was not as hip to it as I am now that I have seen it a couple more times in the interim. Back then, I paid little attention to Clint Eastwood’s Frak Horrigan’s long held guilt over his failure to save JFK--ho, hum. Not another JFK bit!--and focused on John Malkovich’s portrayal of the psychotic ex-CIA assassin Mitch Leary, which I negatively and naively found wanting in comparison with Hannibal Lector.

What a difference many years and a few gray hairs makes.

In the Line of Fire is an action movie with a brain. The plot sounds fairly routine--Secret Service agents try to stop a disgraced CIA operative from killing the new president--there is a lot going on to hold an intelligent viewer’s attention. While it does have the prerequisite gunfights and various other action sequences, none o them feel gratuitous. There is a reason for all of them, usually to further the cat and mouse game between Horrigan and Leary. One of the most pivotal action sequences comes on a rooftop chase in which Leary both kills Horrigan’s partner and saves him from falling. By his actions, Leary has not only kept the game going, but made it even more personal for Horrigan.

I will not discuss the intricate web of clues which help Horigan, but suffice to say the investigation plays out with a logical narrative flow that features some truly disturbing psychological elements. Leary has been turned subhuman by his former spymasters, yet has the wherewithal to stay one step ahead of the Secret Service while still taking the time to hold some salt into Horrigan’s thirty year old, guilt ridden wound.

One other point I appreciate is that Eastwood acts his age. He is not the sixty year old Rocky Balboa stepping back into the ring with a guy thirty years his junior and coming out in one piece. Horrigan is grizzled, tired, and well passed retirement age. He can barely keep and even gets beaten up by Leary in the climax. But that is an aspect that kicks the film up a notch. Hoorigan’s need for redemption keeps him going against all odds. Leary know it, too. The story becomes as much about him keeping Horrigan down as it is about successfully killing the president.

In the Lie of Fire also features Rene Russo as another Secret Service agent, Lily Raines. Her role comes at a time when she is paying the love interest of various forty-something leading men like Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson. I will admit the May-December romance between Raines an Horrigan is forced, but it is a small point. She is just as tough and agent as the rest of them, so she is not in the picture solely for sex appeal. She has plenty of that, mind you, but it is not simply window dressing.

I like In the Line of Fire. As far as action movies go, it is right up there with the original Lethal Weapon in terms of intelligence and entertainment value. I highly recommend it. The only thing that keeps me from giving the movie a higher rating is the implausibility of the romance between Raines and Horrigan and the fact Horrigan is well passed mandatory retirement age for field agents in the Secret Service. The movie is good enough for that not ruin it for me.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Click

I have absolutely despised 99% of Adam Sandler’s post-Saturday Night Live. The 1% exception was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love in which Sandler abandoned his usual man-child shtick and let a talented filmmaker design a character for him. The result was surprising proof that Sandler can be a decent actor when he is not in a typical Adam Sandler movie.

Click puts the above conclusion in jeopardy. It is not your typical Sandler movie. He plays a workaholic architect who is neglecting his family to gain a promotion, so forget the usual slacker with an anger management problem who eventually gets the girl and learns a life lesson after ninety minutes of violent outbursts an junior high level jokes. But still, Click goes horribly wrong.

For starters, the movie fails to make Sandler’s character, Michael Newman, sympathetic. The whole pit of the plot is that we are supposed to be rooting for him to finally realize his family is more important than his career. But we do not like him enough to care about his journey. He yells cruelly at his kids, he ignores his wife, and is a total jerk to everyone else. When the fantastical element of the remote control enters the picture and he can glide through life without bothering with his family, I felt like they were the lucky oes. I was still stuck wirh him.

About the remote. It was given to him by Monty, a worker from the blatant advertised Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Monty is played by the great Christopher Walken, who usually plays good, weird characters with a hint of menace, is sleepwalking here as much as Newman will. It is a universal remote with which Newman can control the world around him. At first, he uses it to get passed the minor annoyances of the day, but as the movie progresses, utilizes it more to avoid family obligations, including such unimportant things like spending time with his kids and making love to his wife.

Finally, he starts bypassing huge chunks of his life until he gets to the point in his career to which he always spied. But by that poit, he has lost his family and is an overweight mess. He eventually suffers a heart attack upon witnessing how his family turned out ad risks his life to keep his son rom maig the same career obsessed choices he did. Ashe lay dying, he tells his family he loves them.

In the ultimate cop out, Monty, revealed to be the Angel of Death, hit’s the reset button. Michael wakes up in Bed, Bath, and Beyond before he ever got the remote with a chance to start all over again since he has the memories of his other “life.” So Click turns out to be a twisted variation of It’s a Wonderful Life. Throwing that revelation on us at the end is a cheap twist.

The predictable, unoriginal plot is not the biggest flaw in Click. Who watches a Sandler movie expecting high creativity in the first place? The problem is I came away wondering if Click was a comedy or drama. The jokes were not funny, but the dram aas not compelling. I did not laugh a single time--literally--and I was more disturbing by the unpleasantness of the dramatic aspects. I can appreciate a dark comedy that is done well, but not one that makes me squirm in my chair waiting for some lighthearted relief that never comes.

I am going to be merciful and not brutally critique the terribly miscast David Hasselhoff as Newman’s smarmy boss. The poor guy was out acted by a Trans Am in his most famous role. He has suffered enough.

The only reason you should see Click is if you do not feel you have suffered enough in life. Fans of his usual Happy Gilmore and Billly Madison offerings will not find anything similar here. Anyone else expecting Sandler to rise to Punch Drunk Love highs will be equally disappointed. Click isan incredibly depressing film with no redeeming aspects whatsoever.

Rating: * (out of 5)