Fun Movie Spotlight: The Rocketeer (1990)

No, this is not a version of The Three Musketeers starring Dwayne Johnson

No, this is not a version of The Three Musketeers starring Dwayne Johnson

With the influx of superhero movies these days, it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when superhero movies were hit or miss…and by that I mean mostly miss. And this time was the 1990’s.

Superhero movies were constantly mishandled, overcompensating in tone, under compensating in dialogue, and being really dated in retrospect. Movies like The Phantom, Steel, Spawn, Batman and Robin, The Shadow. I could go on, because it was a really bad time for superhero movies.

However, given the right circumstances, the right direction, and the right story, and you could have a really nice one out of that era.

You know…maybe not, like, immediately, but in about twenty years, it’ll be generally regarded as pretty nice. Case in point: The Rocketeer, a movie that didn’t get any critical acclaim upon its release, but managed to age extraordinarily well, and has become a bit of a cult classic these days.

I, uh, I SAID...IT AGED REALLY WELL! NO, SERIOUSLY! IT DID!

I, uh, I SAID…IT AGED REALLY WELL! NO, SERIOUSLY! IT DID!

Now, one of the main comparisons people have been making to this film, you know, once it resurfaced from the depths of the bargain bin, was to a more recent superhero movie: Captain America: The First Avenger.

And that’s a pretty nice comparison. Both movies contain a similar backdrop, the mid-40’s, both contain hints of nazism and glimpses of the 40’s glamour. Both have that sort of underdog story featuring someone who in no means could have been pictured as a superhero. Both have an over-the-top villain disguised as a normal person.

And, of course, it helps that Joe Johnston directed both of them.

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In terms of story, The Rocketeer is pretty basic. Our hero, played by Billy Campbell in his first, and only, taste of big-screen glory, works as a pilot with his father-figure, played wonderfully by Alan Arkin. Through a series of events, Cliff, our hero, comes into contact with a jet-pack, and eventually uncovers a Nazi conspiracy through Hollywood. The story is not what makes this movie great, especially in today’s era of superhero movies every five seconds.

I’ll explain it like this. This is a very 1940’s movie, and it completely nails a ton of the 40’s tropes when it comes to making a superhero out of this period. Heck, it’s astonishingly similar to Captain America in this fashion, because they both have the same tone, the same washed out colors, the same underdog story, the same ties to Nazism. Heck, maybe Joe Johnston brought more than star creed to Captain America.

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‘It Means Argo F–k Yourself!’

I have to point out the supporting cast here, because it helps make this movie so strong. I already talked about Alan Arkin, and this is way before he became the requisite ‘crotchety pessimistic old sidekick’ in movies. No, Alan Arkin’s great here, because he’s a sympathetic character who has a lot of fun moments.

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This is a very geeky aside, but hey, there’s Max Grodenchik from Deep Space Nine!

Jennifer Connelly’s great as the female lead. Paul Sorvino has a nice role as (what else?) a mob boss. But there are two performances I want to zero in on before I go any further. Because they make this movie.

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Don’t tell him what he can’t do

I’m a fairly huge Lost fan, so it’s always wonderful to see Terry O’Quinn in other movies and shows, because I tend to forget how good of an actor he is. I mean, aside from the Emmy. He was in the Stepfather, for crying out loud. He’s a really good, believable actor, and he can give a great performance when you least expect it. Here, he plays Howard Hughes. And…with apologies to Leo, he does a pretty damn good job of it.

I mean, yes, this is a slicker, more stereotypical portrayal of this era’s Howard Hughes, and he’s very stern and serious, but there’s something so fun about Howard Hughes helping out a superhero, and it’s great that O’Quinn is so good as him.

But he’s not the best performance in this film. Oh, not by a longshot.

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Why, that would be Timothy Dalton, of course.

I’ve been vocal about the fact that being James Bond sort of ruined Timothy Dalton’s career. Yes, he’s a wonderful actor, and can give amazing performances, but for a five-year-period he was typecast as the everyman do-it-all super spy. And that’s…really not what Timothy Dalton specializes in.

He’s great in playing eccentric geniuses, and great characters, and ESPECIALLY great villains. I even think he was better suited playing Damien Drake in the Looney Tunes movie than playing James Bond, because his Bond was so emotionless, so ruthless, that it barely gave Dalton any reason to emote.

HERE…HE EMOTES. OH, DOES HE EMOTE!

He plays an Errol Flynn type here who is secretly communicating with the Nazis. He’s charming, conniving, and is absolutely loving the role. He’s just having so much fun being the villain. You get a taste of this in Hot Fuzz, but you get even more of a taste here.

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Now, the one complaint people have of Dalton’s character, and also the entire movie, is that it’s too over the top, and too campy for a 1990’s movie. And to that, I say… aren’t you missing the point??

This is a throwback to the serials and movies of the 1940’s, the heroes of that time, when heroes could be over the top and campy. Think George Reeves’ Superman, or Flash Gordon, or Adam West’s Batman. They were campy as all hell, but they didn’t know how to do it differently.

The Rocketeer is Joe Johnson’s tribute to this time, and it’s done with the kind of attention to detail that makes it more admirable. Yes, it’s campy, but it’s campy by design. Yes, the plot sounds kind of goofy, but so did a lot of 40’s and 50’s plots. Yes, Timothy Dalton chews the scenery like no one else in the third act, but so would Ming the Merciless.

Joe Johnston used The Rocketeer, and Captain America 20 years later, as a way of trying to replicate how fun and how campy the heroes were portrayed onscreen in the 1940’s. And in my opinion, this works. Extraordinarily well.

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The Brute Man Rides Again!

Again, the visuals and the lighting in this movie are pure nostalgia, pure 1940’s. It does this better than Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy did, which is pretty great.

Of course a few things bring it down. Billy Campbell’s not perfect as the main character, and can be wafer thin. The special effects are pretty cool, but not all of them have aged very well.

But the action, the supporting cast, and the amount of love for the era it’s based on definitely make up for it.

This movie is not for everyone, but I certainly enjoy it, and hopefully the cult numbers will grow a little more.

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You wouldn’t give bad box office numbers to a face like this, would you?

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Some Thoughts on ‘Hail Caesar’ (And Why It Didn’t Work)

The trailer came out and I ate it up. And that was my fatal flaw.

It doesn’t especially need to be said that I enjoy the Coen Brothers’ works, because I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t. Raising Arizona, Fargo, Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, True Grit, etc. They certainly know how to make a movie, and this is absolutely certain.

However, Hail Caesar is obviously not their best work. It suffers from a ton of major issues, most of which I’m going to get into, but it stems to the fact that it feels unfinished. Even if this movie was pushed two months away from Oscar bait season, it feels like it was underwritten, and under-edited.

(SPOILERS WITHIN, OBVIOUSLY)

Now, when you boil this movie down to bare bones, it’s about Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). The movie is bookended by his need to confess for the littlest things. But also, the fact that this bookend happens means that there’s not really a contrast between the two scenes. Plus, the character is doing the same things at the end of the movie as he did at the beginning. So…the character doesn’t especially change.

Now, this isn’t especially new for a Coen Brothers movie, as a lot of their protagonists will be static by the end of the movie, just because they can. But, in most of those cases, like Marge Gunderson or Jeff Lebowski, this character that’s staying the same…is a really good character. Fleshed out, and interesting, and with enough little traits. You remember somebody like Marge, or the Dude, because of who they are that makes them different from other characters.

Eddie Mannix…was not like that. Eddie Mannix didn’t stand out, and his character wasn’t very fleshed out at all. He has scenes with his family, who he barely is there for, and you see him go about his day, but it doesn’t go deeper than that. It doesn’t transcend much more than just the ‘fixer’ character, or a ’50’s producer’ character.

Mannix has to make a decision in this movie about whether he’s going to stay with Capitol Studios, or if he’s going to get a job with Lockheed Martin and work with their aviation program. And, for a while, you, as the audience, don’t get a lot of support as to what factors into his decision, or why he’s getting another job, or if he doesn’t like his current job. You don’t really know what his motivation is, but you kind of want him to stay with the studio, because…it seems fun, I guess.

So, we’ve already got a big problem with the movie, which is a mostly failed protagonist. It’s not even Josh Brolin’s fault. He’s not given a ton to do. I mean, he does the best with what he’s given, because he’s a great actor, but the character only goes so far.

The A-Plot for the movie is that Baird Whitlock, George Clooney’s character, is filming this huge religious epic, and he’s been kidnapped by a bunch of communists and “forced” into joining the party and discussing ideas with a group of communist screenwriters. But Eddie Mannix isn’t especially involved in the A-Plot. I mean, he is, he tries to get to the bottom of it, but he’s not involved in the resolution.

The resolution belongs to Hobie Doyle (Ahlen Ehrenreich), who’s probably the best character in the movie, because he has the best arc, the best character development, and he’s interesting to watch. The movie should have been about him, to be completely honest. He gets thrown into the A-Plot by Mannix, who informs him about the ransom money he has to give the evil communists to save Baird. So now Doyle is in on it, and he eventually finds the case at a Hollywood premiere, and “follows the money” to Malibu where he rescues Baird and brings him back eventually to the studio.

This is all very good. The A-Plot is fine, and it’s resolved well, and it’s very Coen Brothers-y. But…the way this movie is structured, it doesn’t even matter.

In addition to Eddie’s job and Baird’s plight, there’s another subplot thrown in with Scarlett Johansson as a pregnant dancer who needs a cover-husband because she can’t be portrayed in the media as a single mother. This sort-of ties into Eddie’s plot, but is in the movie enough to be its own entity, rather than an offshoot of the Hobie plot or the Eddie plot.

Channing Tatum plays an aspiring singer/dancer that eventually folds into Hobie’s plot. Ralph Fiennes plays a famed director, and that fits into Hobie’s plot. Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand have small roles that fit into Eddie’s plot. Scarlett’s plot is small, and I imagine there was supposed to be more of it initially, but it’s just kind of there, and doesn’t really factor into anything else other than getting a sweet little postscript, which makes Eddie’s job a little easier.

The most maddening detail is the way the film juts back and forth between plots, between focuses. There’s also a ton of details left offscreen that the movie just assumes the audience will go along with. There is no linear grounds given for George Clooney’s eventual inclination towards the Communist party, as basically the film cuts away from his subplot, they cut back and he’s appreciating ideas. There’s no reason given for the sudden turn, other than the film hinting about him being an idiot.

The worst case of this happens toward the end, when Hobie is able to convince Baird to come back to Hollywood. Channing Tatum’s character is revealed to be the leader of the communist screenwriters, and there’s an overly elaborate scene where he hitches a ride on a submarine headed for Moscow. We don’t really know why, because we’re not shown a hell of a lot of this character, and we don’t know what about him led to this, or what any of this means.

The next day, we cut back to the Eddie plot, and he says he knew about where Baird was being held up, and he apologizes to Tilda Swinton’s character (one of them) about ‘last night’. We never see exactly what was happening to Eddie while Hobie and Baird were having their thing, but the film seems to emphasize its importance. There were definitely some key details happening at the end of Eddie’s night, and the film suddenly decides they’re not important enough to be shown, and instead the movie needs to speed to the finish.

This confused the hell out me. They completely abandoned the scenes where Eddie Mannix figures everything out, just to add more emphasis to the absolute goofiest scene in the movie, with Channing Tatum and the submarine, which I honestly could not take seriously (though the case of money falling into the ocean was a very nice touch, I’ll admit). This was a gigantic chunk of movie that should have been there, as it should helped me understand the full picture of this movie, but…it wasn’t…and the movie suffered because of it.

Alright, now here’s the worst problem with this movie. Absolute worst. This movie is completely different from the one we all thought we’d be getting when we saw the trailer.

I know I thought of something different when I saw the trailer. I saw a fully-driven ensemble piece, sort of like a Robert Altman, about multiple characters forming the plot together, in little vignettes. I saw more from ScarJo, and DEFINITELY more from Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill (who was in LITERALLY ONE SCENE and yet was all over the trailers).

Plus, the plot, back when the trailer was announced, was this: “A screen star goes missing, and a Hollywood fixer enlists the help of a director, a dancer, a cowboy, and a pregnant star, to help find him”. This was NOT the movie we got. Only the cowboy joined the search for Baird, and the search for Baird didn’t really matter in the last moments of the movie.

The movie that Hail, Caesar looked like was the kind of fun, mad-cap, ensemble-driven caper that the Coen Brothers used to thrive on. The movie that Hail, Caesar IS…is a disappointment, a misuse of a lot of actors and actresses, and…something that would have been a lot better with some more rewrites, sad to say.

However, the film can be beautiful at some points, the acting is incredible, and there are several really good scenes, like when Eddie Mannix puts four different religious authority figures in a room and asks for opinions on his religious epic. That was hysterical. The film could be really good at points, but it COULD HAVE BEEN something truly special. Even with the Michael Gambon narration, which was EERILY similar to Sam Elliott’s narration from Big Lebowski, right down to the ending sum up of ‘he’s not really going to change’, you could tell the Coens had an idea for something that didn’t exactly pan out.

I’d say go see Hail, Caesar. It’s a Coen Brothers movie, there’s a lot to like. It’s just mercifully flawed, sadly.

Fun Movie Spotlight: Stardust (2007)

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(not a Coldplay album cover)

Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your ears.

I come here to praise one of the most undeserving screen flops of the last twenty-five years. And believe me, that is saying a lot. There a million movies that came out in that time period that deserved better than they got. Off the top of my head, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Dredd, Last Action Hero (no, REALLY), RED.

But this one is the absolute best. Why, exactly? Because it’s so fun, so imaginative, so well-made, and so…for lack of a better word, perfect. And it did not deserve to land three spots lower than Rush Hour 3 in its opening weekend. If this movie had gotten a better release date, and better marketing, then it would be as beloved as The Princess Bride right now.

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“look, children, a falling star. Make a wish.”

The reason I bring up the Princess Bride is because that’s what it kept reminding me of. The quirky, fantastic characters, the setting, the villains who you can’t help but love, the love story, the hero. It all kept coming back to The Princess Bride.

I don’t mean that they stole things from that movie. Hardly. They borrowed a lot of the same themes, and made a different, yet similarly creative fantasy movie.

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You can kind of see it, too.

The story is, for a fantasy, basic. Our hero Tristan, played by then-and-still-unknown Charlie Cox (okay, I wrote this before Daredevil came out, and now I’ll admit that was pretty mean), wants to prove to his love (Sienna Miller) that he’s brave, and worthy of marriage. So he vows to catch a shooting star for her, which, unbeknownst to him, is played by Claire Danes, and is basically a human. And most of the movie is Tristan realizing that he really loves Claire Danes, and yeah, you’ve seen this kind of love story before.

However, Matthew Vaughn was nice enough to add in a bunch more out-of-the-ordinary plots. The plot I just described is only the A plot. And yes, there is a lot riding on the main plot, and it does well, but the characters they meet along their journey make the film so much more interesting.

Case in point:

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2nd-from-left: quite possibly the best Rupert Everett has looked onscreen…ever.

There’s a group of seven princes who are trying to gain their father’s throne by, how else, killing each other. And the best part of this gag is that when each brother dies, they have to stay in the living world, as a ghost, until the successor’s picked. And it becomes this ridiculous running gag of all of these princes dealing with each other, especially Rupert Everett.

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“what did you say? ‘I loved you in Green Lantern’?”

Mark Strong plays one of these princes, and this is from before he became the Designated British Villain from ever movie ever. And he’s having a shit-ton of fun here, being smarmy and over-the-top in the most enjoyable way possible.

That’s another thing I love about this movie. All of the villains are outrageously fun, including Mark Strong.

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What Michelle Pfeiffer looked like after she took off the Catwoman suit.

Michelle Pfeiffer, absent in movies since around 2000, plays one of three witches trying, and failing miserably, to steal back their youth from Claire Danes. Pfeiffer starts out the movie rejuvenated, and, as another excellent running gag, just keeps getting uglier and older as the movie goes on, which is noted by basically everyone in the movie.

That’s the great thing about the villains- they’re menacing characters, but there’s enough going on that can make them look ridiculous every once in a while, yet still not taking away from the film’s impact.

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THE SHIRE! waitaminute…nevermind.

Now, with everything i just described, bold plots and huge characters and great villains and great humor, you’d think the movie would be badly paced and frenzied, which it isn’t. There’s enough character to fit into separate pockets of movie, and enough action to not interfere with the tone.

Also, the movie’s well shot and looks beautiful, which is definitely a sign of what was to come from Matthew Vaughn.

The story, and in that matter the script, is sound enough that nothing seems cramped, and every character has their chance to shine, and even be liked. It also makes sure our protagonist is well-rounded enough not to seem overly bland, which is nice for a story which could have the supporting characters overtake the punch of the main character.

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Bet you didn’t know Peter O’Toole was in this one.

I could go on about the other supporting characters, about how wonderful Peter O’Toole is in his few scenes, about how much fun Ricky Gervais looks like he’s having in his few scenes, about the amazing, inexplicable amount of energy David Kelly displays (which never ceases to make me smile), and about Arthur Weasley turning up as the human version of a goat. I really could, because there are that many quirky and unique moments in this movie.

But instead, I want to talk about my favorite performance in this movie. And it was one I was getting ready to hate.

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Yes, I’m talking to you.

This is Robert DeNiro. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

When I first heard that Robert DeNiro was in this movie, my reaction was “Oh, honey no…” You see, the last ten years haven’t especially been kind to Robert DeNiro, in terms of his film roles. With the exception of anything directed by David O. Russell, nothing that DeNiro’s acted in since…God knows when has been a good, non-mailed-in performance. I’d say the demarkation line is anything after Rocky & Bullwinkle.

There are a few exceptions, like the first couple Meet the Parents movies, or Limitless (which will eventually be appearing on one of these posts), but going into this movie, I had a feeling I’d be adding this performance to the list of mailed-in ones.

And judging by the first few minutes of it, you’d think that he wasn’t even trying. As famed fearsome pirate Captain Shakespeare, he growls and yells and overacts and chews the scenery and throws a character overboard.

And then, thanks to an unexpected twist that I’d rather die than reveal, he becomes one of the best characters in the movie.

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“You…YOU!…you are very good you. YOU ARE VERY GOOD, YOU.”

I don’t want to spoil anything, but this character has more emotional depth than most of the others, and has the best arc, solely because of his reputation, and the reality that is hidden behind that reputation. Robert DeNiro plays the role perfectly, and has the right amount of charm and subtlety that I thought I wouldn’t be encountering this time.

"my God, you've eaten Al Pacino..."

“my God, you’ve eaten Al Pacino…”

Also, there’s a scene later on with Mark Strong and DeNiro that never ceases to make me laugh. Just the reactions on both faces kill me every time.

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Wait-listed for Disney’s The Haunted Mansion

Again, I could blab on about this movie for hours on end, but it would ruin the movie’s impact. So I assure you, please check it out for yourself. There are a lot of very nice surprises I’ve yet to mention, and would rather not.

If there are any drawbacks, the film is a little long, but most epics are on the longer side. Additionally, the ending is a bit predictable, but it’s still a great ending, and always makes me smile.

So yeah, if you can, check it out. It should still be on Netflix, and the cult following should be growing rapidly as I write this, so hopefully this movie’s reputation will grow more over time.

Hell, maybe one day people will talk about this movie like they talk about The Princess Bride. Wouldn’t that be great?

Overall Grade: A-

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Fun Movie Spotlight: Dredd (2012)

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Sylvester Stallone need not apply.

Do you have any idea how…difficult it is for a movie to achieve a cult status?

You have to try very, very hard to engineer the perfect cult movie. You don’t just end up with a Rocky Horror or Monty Python and the Holy Grail without trying. No, you have to try to appeal to a certain audience, and make sure it’s an audience that will make the fandom well-known.

I bring this up because Dredd because one of the biggest cult successes in the last decade…WITHOUT EVEN TRYING.

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Also not trying yet inexplicable succeeding- Karl Urban in this movie.

The people who made Dredd engineered this clever, grimy dystopian-ish society, made it out-of-control, badass and fun, and just waited patiently for a following, while the marketing campaign royally screwed up their vision and singlehandedly caused the film to flop.

Like Clue, this movie is one of the most undeserving flops ever. Also like Clue, Dredd found a HUGE following in its video and Netflix releases. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think cult followings could spawn this quickly. With Clue, it took a good 15 or so years. Dredd, it is TWO YEARS LATER. The movie came out two years ago this month, and ALREADY, people are citing it as one of the most underrated movies of all time.

Keep in mind that this is the generation where it’s much easier to spawn a cult phenomenon. Snowpiercer and Edge of Tomorrow have been out for less than a year, and already they’ve received tons of support by fans. But what makes Dredd different is that people aren’t calling it a ‘good’ movie. People are calling it an outstanding movie, a visually creative movie, a movie that evokes memories of some of the great action movies, while still being its own sort of movie.

In layman’s terms- everyone on the internet loves this movie. So I had to take a peek.

Here are some great things about this movie:

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Now that Joffrey’s dead, Cercei’s going to kick back and unwind a bit…

IT LOOKS GREAT.

I should mention that 80% of this movie takes place in a grimy, gang-infested apartment complex. It takes place in a really crappy part of this town, and our main characters have to navigate through scum and villainy to get out alive.

This is why it was so surprising to me that the film can find time to look really great.

Any of the scenes of characters using SloMo, the high-tech drug of choice, are shot, you guessed it, in slow motion. You see the smoke rise, you see the characters unwind, you see every element of the scene in a more beautiful, fantastic light. This allows for some of the most creative shots of the movie, and it allows a grungy movie for brilliant moments.

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Plus, even the non-SloMo stuff looks good. Just some of the establishing shots of buildings, or wide shots in darkness, look good. That’s the thing. They take a dark concept and make it look really nice, and really cool.

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“Sulu, remind me never to piss you off.”

Karl Urban plays Dredd, and he plays him exactly how he is in the comics- gritty, non-emotive, brutal, and, in his eyes, just. He plays the character blank, and never once shows emotion other than anger or disappointment. In most movies this would be a fault. Here, it’s the character’s strength. Compare it to Stallone’s version, who was always over-the-top and goofy when trying to be dark. Urban nails it.  He has the character down pat, and he, without even cracking a joke, makes the audience believe he can do it.

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(not pictured: hamburger phone)

Olivia Thirlby, best known as the quirky best friend from Juno, plays Dredd’s new-recruit sidekick, and while I didn’t think she could pull off a serious role, she does. She shows just the right amount of skill, while still pulling off the fact that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. And as a bonus, she gets to be a telepath. The scenes where she uses her powers are actually pretty cool, and at the same time pretty brutal.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention,

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This movie is BRUTAL.

Like, exceedingly violent. The villain, played by Lena Headey, does not hold back in killing people, and Dredd doesn’t hold back either. The deaths are gory, and brutal, but that adds to the overall tone of the film. And hell, there’s a death at the end of the movie that’s brutal and artsy at the same time.

But yeah. Bodies go flying in every way possible.

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The great thing about this movie is that the action sequences are well handled, and well-paced. And there’s as much of a story that is necessary in that kind of movie. It’s clever, it’s smart, and it kept my attention. I do see why so many people liked it.

Not much else to say about this one, but I was impressed.

Grade: B+

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“Off to star in Almost Human”

What the Hell is up With… The Fifth Element (1997)

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Was “Boron: The Movie” taken, or something?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, children of all ages, I present…THE MOST DIVISIVE MOVIE OF THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!

I swear to God, no other movie has started more arguments than this one. And the funny thing here is that there really is no middle ground. The people who like it, adore it, and think it’s one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. The people who hate it, refuse to have anything to do with it, and also refuse to watch Silver Linings Playbook, Money Talks, Jackie Brown, or any of the Rush Hour movies. Nobody simply thinks the movie is okay.

And this, sadly, is my only option. There are so many great things about this movie that it really ticks me off whenever something not-so-great shows up. For me, it’s split down the middle. Half of it is really good, half of it is utter crap.

I’ll start with what I like.

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“mind takin’ that knife out of my balls?”

Bruce Willis, I think, was the right person to star in this. Honestly, I’m a big fan of passive protagonists, who basically let the movie happen to them, instead of simply acting and letting the movie happen. Korben Dallas is a character that won’t move unless somebody movie him, and he happens to have a couple people moving him. And we see the motives of this character are just to do his job without all of this frenzied crap happening. When he gets annoyed, the audience gets annoyed with him. I am saying this now, because later I’m going to come back to this. Willis is great as a mouthpiece to the audience, because he thinks this whole thing is weird, just like we do.

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“Get away from my godson.”

Gary Oldman, who, along with Ralph Fiennes, is one of the better actors in Hollywood who specializes in playing villains, plays a really over the top one here. He’s got a really generic alien name (Zorg), but his personality is one of the least generic. He’s a Southern guy who seems to control everything, yet keeps his cool the entire time.

People complain that his accent is goofy. It is. I do not have a problem with that, because it looks like Oldman’s having a hell of a time playing this character. You can see it. His villain here is so cold and calculating that it’s pretty badass, yet he does set himself up for failure later. And I’ll say that his demise never ceases to make me smile.

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Another thing this movie going has going for it is Luc Besson’s direction. I mean, obviously you had someone who knew exactly what he wanted, who created this bizarre, fantastical world, adding all of this weird and beautiful crap in there. So a lot of the movie, while odd, is great to look at. There are shots like this one, which is really picturesque, and gives a great scenery to this part of the movie, which is heavily flawed.

Plus, there are wild ideas like this one:

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(Not from the Star Wars prequels)

For those of you who’ve at least scene the poster for this film, this looks kind of familiar. And yeah, a lot of the film’s plot hinges on this alien opera singer. So her scene is beautifully executed, and adds a degree of grace to a scene that is otherwise pretty wild and brutal. Plus, as a bonus, the diva was played by Luc Besson’s then-wife.

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So yeah. The thing people forget is that at times, this can be a very beautiful, delightfully out-there movie, all because Besson’s going on his idea, and letting all of his creative juices flow out.

Now…the downside of having a creative, quirky film, is that not everything about it…works.

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My expression while watching this movie.

The film is structurally flawed. Not only does it have some loose ends, and not only do some characters simply…disappear for the rest of the film, but the film is very badly organized. The first half is mostly unrelated from the second half, and the climax is basically nonexistent, unless you count a big action scene that…I thought was just an action scene, not the climax. When the film ends, the evil is defeated, and the heroes win…you kind of are expecting more.

Plus, the whole movie goes by and the hero doesn’t even come into contact with the villain. Literally. The one point they’re about to meet, they pass in the elevator, and depart. There is no climactic battle, there is no final duel. The villain meets his end by someone else other than the hero. And while, yes, that may be more similar to real life, it’s not following the normal structure that the movies have taught us. Our hero is supposed to fight our villain. When they don’t even meet..you feel like there was something cut out.

Also, there’s a potentially great character in Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo, but a lot of different elements squander this, like the fact that the character’s so infantile, and makes her decisions so rashly. She’s badass at times, but the characters’s too flawed for her to be likable, though there was definitely some thought put in.

…Now, I should probably mention the one fault that most people have with this movie…

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Mankind’s Gift to Acting

Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod is, without a doubt, the most polarizing character in recent film history. He speaks in a high pitched voice, writhes around in funny looking clothing, screws a flight-attendant, and won’t…freaking…leave.

People cite this character as the film’s prime flaw. They say that this character ruined the film for them, that he’s worse than Jar-Jar Binks, that they wanted to gouge his eyes out. I’ve even seen a number of message board comments from people saying they would like this movie…if Ruby Rhod was not in it.

You see, while I agree that the character’s annoying…the people who want him out of the movie are missing the point of the character: Ruby Rhod is SUPPOSED TO BE ANNOYING.

Why the hell do you think he was that annoying? What non-Jar-Jar character would be inserted into a really good movie, and just made unintentionally annoying. No, there had to have been some intent in throwing Ruby Rhod in there…and that is to make the audience feel exactly as Korben Dallas does.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that the character’s introduction is in a television ad for his cruise ship prize, where you hear his annoying voice and see his weird looks. And you know what Korben Dallas does? EXACTLY WHAT ANY OF US WOULD HAVE DONE! HE TURNS THE BLOODY TELEVISION OFF!

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What most of us want to do to Chris Tucker.

Once we actually meet Ruby Rhod, he’s annoying as all hell, and as much as we want him to go away, Korben, and in that matter, the audience, is stuck with him for the rest of the cruise, and he won’t go away. So, he’s annoying to us because he’s annoying to Korben, and Besson creates this character simply to be annoying, and to be hated, so that we can liken ourselves to Korben, and feel what he’s feeling about this character.

So…while the character is indeed awful, it’s deliberate. Besson made it incredibly complicated, but he still had a just reason for putting such an awful character in the movie.

Does that mean I have no feelings of hatred for Ruby Rhod. Of course not. I hate him as much as everyone else does. But I don’t hate the reason why I hate him. And I don’t hate Luc Besson for putting him in the movie. I just hate the character because the movie wants me to hate the character. I do as I’m told.

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As a bonus, this movie has Lee Evans from Mouse Hunt doing an impression of Kevin Bacon in Animal House.

So, is this movie worth the madness? Well…I think so. It really depends on your tolerance for flawed structure, and Chris Tucker. But with that exception, there are great performances. I didn’t even mention Ian Holm as the eccentric and persistent priest, or Brion James as a knucklehead general, or Lee Evans as a bumbling security guard. The movie is visually inspired, stunning, and serene at times. You care about the characters (most of them, anyway), and the story isn’t too hokey to follow.

Plus, it’s fun. I didn’t label it as a ‘fun movie’, because it’s divisive, and I had to examine exactly what was wrong with it, but as action movies go, it’s fun to watch. If you can overlook the flaws, and embrace the weirdness, you will likely enjoy it. And if you can’t fathom it all, well I won’t blame you: this movie is not for everyone.

Matter of fact, if I could compare it to any recent movie, it would be Snowpiercer. That movie is just as visually stunning, just as batshit insane, has just as many creative characters, and has a particularly striking ending. It’s also just as divisive- critics loved Snowpiercer, but a lot of fans have cried bollocks over it (I myself rather liked it). To that extent, I see Snowpiercer becoming just as big a cult phenomenon as this movie has become, with just as many supporters and detractors.

As for the Fifth Element: it is far from perfect, but if you put yourself in the right state of mind, you can enjoy it.

Grade: B-

P.S.- One last thing I want to say about this movie. When I watched this on Netflix, it occurred to me how…uniquely weird the soundtrack is. Like, it’s very striking, very cool, and very off-putting at times. To that end, the song they play over the end credits is…memorable, and incredibly catchy, to the point that it’s still in my head a good five days after I saw it. You can hear it for yourself, if you’d like.

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“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”

Fun Movie Spotlight: Mouse Hunt (1997)

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(This is not a biopic about Michael Eisner. Thankfully.)

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of my afternoons watching the HBO Family channels, because they had the right amount of weird 80’s and 90’s kids movies back then for my expertise. From that channel I got Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, The Addams Family (which will no doubt be showing up in one of these columns eventually), and the various Wallace and Gromit-era Aardman flicks.

But they’d also show more forgotten stuff, like HBO exclusive movies that never really made it to the theater. One of them, which was peculiar to me even as a 7-year-old, was a modern reboot of the Laurel and Hardy movies, starring Bronson “Scaring the Little GIRL” Pinchot as Stan Laurel. And…it was awful. Even seven-year-old Jordan did not like this movie.

Why was it so awful? Because it was trying to recreate the Laurel and Hardy comedic style in name, not in spirit. It was two people who looked like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and didn’t do any of the things that they did. It’s similar to if they would just make a Three Stooges movie starring three random people who only vaguely look like the Howards, and just expect people to think it’s the same style of humor (man, if only there was a punchline lying around here somewhere).

Why exactly do I bring this up if we’re supposed to be talking about Mouse Hunt?

Well…

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Because Mouse Hunt is the Laurel and Hardy movie we never asked for.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know how much sense this makes. Two dim-witted brothers, one greedy, the other wimpy, move into an old house, and end up tearing the place apart (literally) searching for a mouse. This is basically a Laurel and Hardy movie that never happened.

And the funny thing is that the slapstick is there. The slapstick is definitely up to par with any Laurel and Hardy caper. There are explosions, massive pain, a guy stuck in a chimney, and a jacuzzi that ends up underwater.

And yes, it may seem stupid that there’s a mostly-CGI mouse that’s evading capture all the time, but at times this mouse is a very well-rounded character, and you end up rooting for him once or twice.

Also, I should point out that while it was marketed as a kid’s movie…there are shots like this.

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…that, taken in context, amount to some not-so-kid-friendly stuff. And I’d also like to point out that the shot that comes directly out this never ceases to make me laugh. And I will do my best not to spoil it.

While we’re here, I’m going to point out some things I love about this movie:

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Lee Evans realizes that they left him off the cover of the There’s Something About Mary VHS box.

Lee Evans, who you may recognize especially if you’re British, or if you’re a fan of There’s Something About Mary, plays the more emotional of the two brothers in this one, and he’s probably the best part of the movie. He’s always in an emotional mess, and he’s always trying to save his company while still trying to control his brother. Roles like these makes you wonder why he didn’t do more movies.

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Nathan Lane still seems to think he’s in The Birdcage.

Nathan Lane is the other brother, and this was his first big role after The Birdcage, so he was already becoming a big deal. You could see why he’d gotten such a reception there, because here he has a far more subdued role than Albert Goldman (though you can say that about any other Nathan Lane role), but it’s still got a lot of meat on it. He’s the lovable loser trope, the guy who is so determined to get what he wants that he leaves common sense out of it.

Being that it’s a Nathan Lane performance, there is so much heart put into it, that it’s hard to ignore. Also, he’s terrific at scenes where everything around him is falling apart.

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Quite literally, actually,

That’s the great thing about this movie. Even if the script can be silly, even if the concept is out-there, and even if it’s far too isolated to actually be relatable, the two leads make this movie enjoyable, and absolutely give it their all.

Now, when I mention the leads, I should also bring up the fact that the rest of the cast is actually pretty good, if low-profile.

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Besides, how often do you get to see Ernie “Pumbaa” Sabella in a non-animated role?

Vicki Lewis is great as a man-eating ex-wife character. Maury Chaykin brings just enough ham to playing a Russian house collector. Michael Jeter has a small role. William Hickey plays a dead guy.

…I feel like I’m forgetting somebody huge here…

No, it’ll come to me, it’ll come to me…

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Out of my way, Nathan, I’m here to save this movie.

Oh, right.

Christopher Walken, the patron saint of awkwardness on film, comes in about midway through the second act, as Caesar the Exterminator, who has this very unique way of getting into other creatures’ heads.

I’m not going to act like this is crazy, because it is, but it’s pure Walken. It is the perfect gonzo performance for Walken to completely take over, because Walken supplies the crazy. There’s a scene where he eats mouse poop. Makes you wonder whether or not it was in the script.

And, because this is a slapstick movie, Christopher Walken ends up looking like this:

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“It’s over…you’re finished…”

I’ll admit he looks better than he did at the end of Batman Returns, but…just the amount of violence Walken ends up enduring is hysterical on its own.

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The last thing I should say about this movie is that while it’s still a slapstick comedy, at times it can be a very subtle movie. There are characters who deal with loss, and try to figure out how exactly to make the person they lost happy, and there’s conflicting opinions there. Plus, a lot of the camera shots are well laid out.

Funny thing is that Gore Verbinski directed this, before he directed the Ring, and a couple Pirates of the Caribbean movies. This was his first big movie, and you can see the kind of promise the he had. Also, the movie can be very dark at times, in its humor. One of the first shots of the movie is a dead person shooting down into the sewer.

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The bottom line is that, funny or not, this can be a very divisive movie to some (though not as divisive as the next one I’m tackling. Watch for it. And if you’re French, I’d say avoid it altogether). I’ll leave it to you guys to form opinions about it, because while it’s very funny, it’s still a bizarre little film, one that can shift from a mean-spirited tone to a remorseful one. So, I’ll understand if you don’t like it, but either way, the opinion’s all yours.

Also, if you’re wondering about that picture above…yeah, you kind of need to watch the movie to figure that one out.

Overall, I give this movie a solid B. Not perfect, but it made me smile.

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Bad Remakes: The 2005 version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Story So Far:

In 2005, a subpar, mediocre adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was created.

This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

It is my firm belief that there is absolutely nothing as bad as an “okay” remake or adaptation. I’ll put it this way. Good adaptations are good, and eventually remade anyway. Bad adaptations are awful, scorned, and remade immediately afterward to remedy whatever the hell was wrong with it.

OKAY adaptations have some good elements, and a lot of bad elements. However, the good elements are enough to prevent the movie from being remade for a while, or in some cases at all (like Dune, or A Series of Unfortunate Events).

In the case of Hitchhiker’s Guide, the movie had a lot of really good elements, yet had one gaping, inescapable problem that really distracted from really enjoying it, as well as a few other less intrusive flaws, which I’m probably gonna go over first.

The first thing you should know about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that it’s incredibly difficult to adapt. So much is going on, not only within the narrative, but as little asides to the people reading, that it’s difficult to keep in a film-oriented format. A lot is going to be cut, so someone who’s skilled at going through with challenges should attempt them.

They tried getting someone really good to make this movie, believe me, they did. In the twenty-plus years this movie ran through Development Hell, people like Ivan Reitman, Jay Roach, Barry Sonnenfeld, Spike Jonze and even Douglas Adams himself were all going to, in some way, bring this movie to the screen. Respectively, Ghostbusters, other projects, Men in Black 2, Adaptation, and death prevented these people from directing. So naturally, a guy who had never directed a full-length feature was the next choice.

I have absolutely nothing against Garth Jennings. He directed one of my favorite music videos, R.E.M.’s Imitation of Life video, and he would eventually go onto direct Son of Rambow, which, while flawed, was still a cute movie. I do not hate him, personally. But…I think that it’s evident that he was the wrong choice to direct this movie. It’s too clean. It’s too chipper. The lighting is too much. It’s too…organized.

Douglas Adams’ world wasn’t supposed to be organized. The whole thing that made the books so great was that he never really had any ideas for an interlocking plot, just characters doing different things with different characters. This became gleefully evident when he had an entire book centered around just Arthur on Earth with a girl named Fenchurch that the audience wasn’t familiar with, and then halfway through it he basically just blatantly said ‘look, I know this book is shit, but bear with me. Besides, I’ll throw Marvin in the last chapter for you if you’re that pissed’.

(By the way, the book in question is Life, the Universe, and Everything, which is the fourth one. Anyone who hasn’t read the books and wishes to, only read that one if you’re trying to become an Adams completists. It’s the Presence of the Hitchhiker’s Guide universe.)

Now, if you take a world that’s disheveled, and unorganized, and a bit grimy…and you go ahead and organize it, and make it this slick, snappy, a tad serene, universe…well that’s not going to work out very well with the hardcore fans.

Another thing that pissed people off about the movie is the fact that it didn’t really seem to follow the books in any way other than the beginning, the characters, and the ending. No, instead they threw in John Malkovich as a disembodied head-and-shoulders named Humma Kavula, who worships a gigantic statue of a toe.

(This is all from recall, so if I fucked up any of the details…I really don’t care, it’s a bad movie.)

None of these added things were in the books, nor was the subplot where Trillian gets kidnapped, or the subplot where Trillian and Arthur actually met years ago at a Halloween party, or a lot of the different concepts they introduced in the middle half of the film. They are slightly Adamsian, but they’re not from the books, and they’re…a bit odd.

Plus, sometimes they just take the source material and throw it at the wall. The last line of the movie, they’re going to the Restaurant at the end of the Universe. Now, in the books, it’s supposed to be a themed restaurant that simulates the end of life as we know it, that the guy puts on every hour for different people. In the movie, they fuck that all up, by leaving for the restaurant, and then Marvin says something along the lines of “forgive me if i’m wrong, but isn’t this restaurant at THE OTHER END of the universe?” As in, the far end, rather than the final end. Yeah, that made me pretty mad.

But…nothing made fans madder than the inclusion of one subject that wasn’t really dealt with in the books, and for good reason- it would have made things way too clicheed. And that subject is love.

The movie fucks everything up by including a subplot where Arthur and Trillian are in love, which isn’t really discussed in the books. At the end of the movie, he, while being strapped down by the mice in search of the question to life, the universe, and everything (which they thankfully got right), gives a whole speech saying that the real Ultimate Question is ‘is she the one?’, referring to Trillian.

…Yep. The 2005 movie turns one of the most memorable parts of the book into a cliched love speech. And people wonder why we hate it so much.

So that’s basically everything this movie got wrong, without even bringing up the fact that it crammed a lot of stuff from a lot of the books into one movie, and rearranging some stuff for the hell of it.

Now, I’ll admit that the casting in this movie is the one thing it has going for it. Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy and Alan Rickman are all absolutely perfect in their roles. Hell, I’d even say the absolute best thing about this movie is Stephen Fry as the guide, bringing enough zeal and at the same time authority to simply reading exposition, and lines from the books. He’s brilliant, and he’s the sort of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson kind of portrayal, where I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role after.

Plus, when the movie does the source material right, it’s really good. The scenes of the destruction of earth, and the scenes with Slartibartfast are all right as Adams intended. If the rest of the movie had been handled that way, it would be a little bit better.

But, as it stands, this version of the movie is not very good, and, not that many people saw it. One can only imagine it as an afterthought, akin to someone shouting “AND ANOTHER THING”, twenty minutes after admitting that he lost the argument.

Grade: C. I hope somebody makes a better version of this someday.