innocent_man: (darkling)
2013-01-03 09:33 am

Movie #172: The Castle in the Sky

The Castle in the Sky is a 1986 Hayao Miazaki film, dubbed into American with Anna Paquin, James van der Beek, Cloris Leachman and Mandy Patinkin.

In a world with sky-pirates, floating fortresses and coal mining, a young boy named Pazu (van der Beek) catches a girl (Paquin) falling from the sky, slowly, with a glowing crystal around her neck. They make friends, and he reveals that he's looking for Laputa, the fabled floating civilization, kind of like Atlantis but covered in clouds rather than water. His father photographed Laputa once, but never made it there.

Turns out the girl, Sheeta, is the lost heiress to Laputa, but the government (led by an evil operative voiced by Mark Hamill) and some sky-pirates (led by Cloris Leachman as the pink-pigtailed, rough and rowdy matriarch) are all after her. Pazu and Sheeta eventually wind up hooking up with the pirates so they can continue on their way without endangering anyone, but of course everyone arrives at Laputa anyway, where it's revealed that Laputa used to dominate the world until their arms-race mentality doomed the whole civilization. Now their magitech is left for nothing but gardening, with huge, long-armed robots doing the upkeep.

It's a pretty classic Miazaki movie, absolutely beautiful to watch. I think that, story wise, it goes on a little longer than necessary and it's not anywhere near as tight as Spirited Away or even My Neighbor Totoro, but it's definitely worth having, and my kids liked it.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Elf
innocent_man: (abyssal)
2013-01-03 09:21 am

Movie #171: Fletch Lives

Fletch Lives is, of course, the sequel to Fletch, though interestingly it's not based on one of the novels. It stars Chevy Chase, Hal Holbrook, Julianne Philips, R. Lee Emry, Randall Cobb and Cleavon Little.

Chase returns as Fletch, an investigative reporter for an LA paper. He gets fed up with his boss (Richard Libertini) jerking him around just about the time he inherits an 80-acre Louisiana plantation from his aunt, quits his job and moves down south. The first night there, he beds the executor of his aunt's estate (Patricia Kalember), and then wakes up to find her dead.

The investigation introduces him to a television minister (Emry) trying to buy up all the land in the area to expand his Bibleland amusement park, as well as said minister's daughter (Philips), as Girlfriend. I actually wish that they'd somehow kept Kalember as the love interest. Her character was, to me, more interesting and capable in the brief time we see her before she's fridged.

Fletch does his usual thing of putting on disguises and telling outlandish stories (claiming, while in a biker bar, to own Harley-Davidson, for instance), but unlike Fletch, here it's not as often about getting information as just letting Chase perform. In the first movie, he'd be just silly or offensive enough to get a rise out of someone, here he just kind of rambles in places. I dunno, sometimes it works, but for the most part they ditched the mystery and kept this comedic.

A standout: Cleavon Little (whom those of us with taste in movies know from Blazing Saddles) plays Fletch's occasional sidekick here, Calculus. He's kind of a caricature, but it's implied all the way along that he's much more than that...and lo, turns out he's an FBI agent investigating the same things Fletch is. All in all, the movie works, even if it's not quite as interesting as the original.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Castle in the Sky
innocent_man: (calvin)
2013-01-03 09:09 am

Movie #170: Fletch

Fletch was our first half of our annual New Years Double Feature. It's a detective comedy starring Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Joe Don Baker and (briefly) Geena Davis.

Fletch (Chase) is an investigative reporter trying to find the source behind the drug traffic on LA's beaches. In the course of his investigation, he's approached by a millionaire named Alan Stanwyk (Matheson), who, thinking Fletch is just a junkie, offers him 50 grand to kill him; Stanwyk claims to be dying of bone cancer. Fletch, knowing a set-up when he sees one but sensing a story, digs into Stanwyk's life and uncovers unsavory connections to the local police chief (Baker), the drug traffic, and Utah.

I've never read any of Gregory McDonald's Fletch novels (and holy crap, there are a bunch), but apparently the movie differs considerably from the book. McDonald still loved Chase's performance, though, and I have to say that this is before Chase kinda sold out so he's still fun to watch. There's some physical comedy, but mostly it's about Chase assuming different identities and taking on joke names to get what he wants, and playing off of people flawlessly to gain their trust. I didn't realize before what an accomplished con man Fletch is in this movie, but he's really good at saying just enough to get people talking and then shutting up and letting them talk.

Anyway, the movie is pretty understated. There's a car chase just so we get a little hit of action, there's implied sex (with Stanwyk's wife, played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), and some fun flirting with Fletch's office assistant, Larry (Davis). The movie flunks the Bechdel; the only time two women are even in the same scene is at the end when the widow Stanwyk (spoilers!) meets Larry, briefly, and I don't even think they talk to each other at all. But Ms. Stanwyk actually does have a bit of life and agency to her, right up until Fletch tells her the truth about her husband, at which point she wants to do something but winds up just doing what Fletch says. Can't win 'em all.

Fletch isn't really edgy, but it's got some fun moments and it's a good story, and it's a fun window into Chase's early career.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Fletch Lives
innocent_man: (lsd)
2012-12-29 08:49 pm

Movie #169: Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is a movie based on the novel by Roald Dahl, and not, as some folks seem to think, a remake of the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder. This one stars Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, which means it must also have Helena Bonham Carter (yep, as Mrs. Bucket) and Christopher Lee (yep, as Unnecessary Daddy Issues). Oh, and Tim Burton directing.

I actually really like this movie. I think the modern imaginings of Veruca, Violet and Mike are perfect, and I think that Deep Roy did a fantastic job as every Oompa Loompa ever. Really, everyone in this movie is perfect except for Depp and Lee, and I can't blame Lee.

See, in the book, Wonka doesn't have a past. He's presented as this funny, eccentric but very kind old man. He is unfailingly polite to everyone in the factory (I mean, he tells a parent to go soak her head, but she totally deserves it), and he loves the factory and he likes kids. In the 1971 version, he's close to the book version but then he does the freakout at the end and there's the test with the gobstoppers and blah. In this one, he's this weird mishmash of Howard Hughes and Michael Jackson, he doesn't care about anyone else, he hates families and parents, and his dad was a dentist who refused to give him candy.

And OMG, I forgot how clumsy the flashbacks were, especially if you know the book. It really reads like Burton inserting his own issues throughout the movie, and it's completely unnecessary. And it wouldn't be so bad if the rest of the movie weren't do so skillfully.

It took a while to get this made because they had to wait for Dahl to die; he was so unhappy with the 1971 film. I have no idea how he'd feel about this one. I like it, but I kind of want to fast-forward through everything Burton added.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Either Elf or Fletch
innocent_man: (mouseketeer)
2012-12-29 06:11 pm

Movie #168: An American Tail

An American Tail is a Don Bluth animated film from the mid-80s, featuring a little very early CGI, a few not especially catchy songs, and some voice work from Dom Deluise, Madeline Kahn and Christopher Plummer as a French pigeon.

This was in the days before animated movies tended to have all-stars casts, dontchaknow, so the headliner is a mouse named Fievel (Philip Glasser). Little Fievel and his family are Russian mice (Jewish Russian mice, in fact; they're celebrating Hanukkah as the movie opens) under constant attack by cats following the Cossacks. They undertake a long journey to America, and get pretty much the same treatment as the human immigrants doing the same thing; they have stars in their eyes about how it's all awesome, but getting there, they have to struggle to make a place for themselves.

Little Fievel, though, is separated from his family en route, and the movie is really the story of him meeting various folks and getting mixed up in the anti-cat struggle for freedom (the cats are led by Warren T. Rat, who is actually a cat in disguise, and voiced by John Finnegan). And then they build a giant, firework-breathing mouse to scare the cats away, and then the movie goes on for another 20 minutes for some reason.

It's cute, and it gave us the song "Somewhere Out There" (made famous by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram), but it's very much pre-Disney-Renaissance. The plot is thin and rambly, and though there are a couple of laughs, there's no real attempt at the more sophisticated humor we see in kids' movies now (though that said, the parallels between human and mouse culture are nice).

My grade: B-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
innocent_man: (r&g)
2012-12-29 05:54 pm

Movie #167: Brave

Brave is a Pixar movie that didn't get the same kind of love as Up or Monsters Inc, but is still very much worthy of the company.

Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is a Scottish princess who's stifling under her mother's (Emma Thompson) rules. Her father (Billy Connoly) is a bit more like her - loud, passionate, likes to fight and boast, while her mother is more staid and reserved. But Merida's real passion is archery, and so when the four clans assemble so that the firstborn sons can compete for Merida's hand in marriage, she defies her mother and tradition by competing for her own hand, handily winning an archery contest.

Which would be bad enough, but then after a blazing fight with her mother in which she slashes the family tapestry, she runs to the woods and buys a spell from a witch wood carver. Said spell takes the form of a cake that, when eaten, turns her mother (and her three little brothers) into a bear.

Turns out this happened once before - the bear-creature, Mordu, stalks the land even still! (And it's not like it's just a legend; fricking thing ate the king's leg when Merida was just a wee lass.)

The movie is a fairy tale, complete with princess. And it's easy to see why a lot of audiences thought it was nothing special. EXCEPT, you have to look at what's different.

Merida doesn't fix her problems by acquiescing, first of all. She's active, passionate and vocal, but unlike with Belle, those qualities aren't her undoing and they're not necessarily seen as bad things (her mother doesn't tell her to shut up, just to act with some decorum).

And then there's this rather important bit - Merida is a princess with two living parents. Name another one (I can't). Also, it's her mother that's the focus of the character arc. Her father is there, he's present, and he obviously loves his family, but for the most part he isn't an antagonists or a stubborn idiot (he does lock Merida in a room, but to protect her from a bear, and I kind of have to give him that one). Both Merida and Elinor have a distinct character arc, and their relationship - mother/daughter, which is never explored in kids' movies - is the focus of the story.

If I have a quibble, it's that the wood carver character and that whole scene felt cutesy enough to be out of place. The rest of the movie had a mythic quality to it, and then the wood carver has a magical phone menu? Eh. It felt like that scene was thrown in because someone didn't feel the movie was relatable enough. But really, beyond that, the movie is beautifully animated and really well acted. It might not be my favorite Pixar movie, but I like it and it definitely improves on second viewing.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: An American Tail
innocent_man: (buttons)
2012-12-25 11:18 pm

Movie #166: Flatliners

Flatliners is a 1990 film starring Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt and Billy Baldwin in some wacky medschool hijinks, directed by Joel Schumacher.

OK, not so wacky. Actually, I really like the premise of this movie. The characters are a group of med students, at the top of their class. One of them, Nelson (Sutherland) has the bright idea to experiment with life after death by inducing brain death and having the others revive him. As he puts it, "Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it's up to the physical sciences."

They all have their own reasons for going along with this, of course. Steckel (Platt) is writing a memoir. Hurley (Baldwin) wants to be rich and famous. Lebraccio (Bacon) is Nelson's friend, but also thinks this is all bullshit and wants to be right about that. And Manis (Roberts) is obsessed with NDE anyway.

Nelson "dies" for a few minutes, and comes back talking about his senses being finely tuned, comforting presence, blah blah. But after Hurley does the same thing, odd things start happening - a pivotal moment from the characters' pasts haunts them. In Nelson's case, said pivotal moment is a 9-year-old kid he accidentally knocked out of a tree and killed when he was a boy, and that kid shows up at random points and beats the shit out of him. In Hurley's case, he sees images of the women he cons into bed and then secretly videotapes (he's engaged, by the way). Labreccio sees a little girl he used to bully at school, while Manis sees her long-dead father.

Steckel never flatlines, and that's actually a complaint I have about this movie. I like Platt's character. He's rational and well-spoken, but he's also a privileged ass. He never really risks anything (other than by participating, which I guess is something), but he talks like he has a stake in all this to match the others. I would have liked to have seen that character with a few skeletons in the closet.

But that's actually a pretty minor point. The movie works fairly well, and I like that it never really explains what's going on. The characters make a lot of assumptions - it's people we've wronged who want revenge (by the way, Manis makes that suggestion to Labreccio, and he responds, "I don't know how it works," and then the next day, she says "You said it yourself, people we've wrong want revenge" - no, honey, you said that), we need to make amends, atone, gain closure, it's God, it's the dead, it's the afterlife, who knows. It does seem to be the case that it's not so much the most pivotal thing that a character does (you can't tell me that bullying a classmate was the worst thing Labreccio ever did) as what that character holds onto the tightest. Likewise, we see it in that character's context. Hurley, based on some of the things that his phantom women say to him (implied to be lines he used on them) has come perilously close to date rape, but when his fiancee finds the tapes and leaves him, he sticks to "those women meant nothing to me" - he hasn't learned a lesson, but that's the end of his character arc. Are these flatlines, then, less about making karmic balance and more about dredging up the worst in a person's own mind, giving it a voice or a pair of fists (or a hockey stick) and letting it go to work? Is it a Jungian shadow?

(Can you tell I've seen this movie a bunch of times and played a lot of Wraith: The Oblivion?)

Anyway, it's good movie in premise and in performance. The script and set design are a little overwrought, but y'know, Schumacher. This is a flick I could see getting remade with some success, though you'd maybe have to compensate for the fact that we totally know more about NDE than this movie wants to admit.

Oh, and another thing: I could see this movie as an RPG. I don't know what game, exactly. Probably something froofy and indie. But four guys, one girl, with all the guys trying to either fuck or protect her? Yeah. That's totally how it would go in a lot of circles.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high, but I admit I'm weird

Next up: Hmm. Well, technically Brave (I got some movies for Xmas), but we've already scheduled Fletch, so it'll be one of those two.
innocent_man: (tick)
2012-12-25 06:24 pm

Movie #165: First Strike

Jackie Chan's First Strike, since that's the full title, technically should have gone under "J", but fuck it, we already watched it. It's one of his Police Story series; I think the only other one I've seen was Super Cop, and I can't really remember.

Anyway, Jackie Chan plays himself as a Hong Kong cop working with Interpol to track down an arms dealer (I think), but then he gets mixed up with FSB, sent to Australia to find the sister of the CIA double agent who's stealing a nuclear warhead. And then there's this climactic underwater battle with a killer shark and POW! Everything is fine.

Well, there's more to it than that, but honestly you don't watch this movie for the plot. The plot is pretty straightforward, though I don't know how much of that is due to the dubbing job. I know it was released in (mostly) Mandarin, and I don't know how much of that changes things. But really, the awesome bits of the movie are Jackie kicking ass with various household implements. The scene where he takes on a gang of folks with a stepladder is pretty amazing, especially when you stop to remember that he does all that shit himself (always the takeaway message to a Jackie Chan flick).

Personally, I like Rumble in the Bronx better; the fight scenes are more interesting and the story is easier to follow and more compelling, but this is fun, too. Plus he wears koala underwear.

My grade: B-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Flatliners
innocent_man: (drama)
2012-12-20 12:28 pm
Entry tags:

Movie #164: Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland is a dramedy starring Kate Winslet, Johnny Depp, Freddy Highmore, Rhada Mitchell and Dustin Hoffman. It's a limited biopic of J. M. Barrie, the playwright who wrote Peter Pan.

Barrie (Depp) is a playwright who's kind of lost his edge. His producer, Charles Frohman (Hoffman) has just taken a bath producing a play that kind of flopped, but is confident that Barrie will get his mojo back (just, y'know, do it soon). At the park one day, Barrie meets and befriends a young widow (Winslet) and her five boys. He winds up playing pretend with them, and while there might be attraction between him and Sylvia, that's really secondary to the fun he has with the kids.

He goes home to his wife (Mitchell), who notes that Sylvia's mother, Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie) is an important woman. She invites the family over, but Emma, as it turns out, doesn't approve of Sylvia doing anything but getting remarried, and so that kind of chills things. But Barrie continues to hang out with the family, including trying to get young Peter (Highmore) to let out some of the grief and anger he's feeling over his father's death. Barrie begins to write Peter Pan, using the family as inspiration.

Along the way, though, Sylvia takes ill with Dramatic Coughing at Bad Times (actually it was cancer IRL, but that's never stated in the movie), and doesn't get to the see the play in the theater (which, as we all know, was very well-received). A poignant moment: After the play, Peter, who's gone to see it as his mother's request, is standing in a crowd of people and they start saying he's Peter Pan. Peter, kind of indignantly, says he's not - Barrie is.

What's interesting about that is the Peter, in real life, grew up to hate the play and was very upset that he didn't get any money from it when Barrie died. He (Peter) committed suicide.

(Actually, most of the brothers didn't fare too well. George, the oldest, died young in WWI. Michael drowned at age 20 with another young man who was probably his lover; folks still aren't sure if it was accidental or a suicide pact. Peter killed himself. Bad scene all around.)

I like this movie a lot. Yes, it's a kind of standard weepy drama, but Depp brings a nice vulnerability to his portrayal of Barrie. In the movie, as in life, he's accused of pedophilia, but it never really goes beyond "hey, people are talking." Hoffman as Frohman is nicely understated, but you get the feeling that he believes in Barrie, even if he's worried about losing money on him (by the way, Frohman died on the Lusitania because he refused a seat on a lifeboat).

It's a good performance by Winslet, and she manages to make her portrayal of a dying woman moving without going full Lifetime. Freddy Highmore, of course, is the standout as Peter - it was this role that led to him playing Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

There's a scene in the movie were Barrie's wife, Mitchell, expresses a desire to go to these worlds he creates, and that she's jealous that he includes Sylvia and the boys in his creative process but not her. I remember seeing this movie in theaters and having a conversation with Heather about that. I asked her if she ever felt excluded from my worlds. She said, "Not really. It's pretty scary in there." She had a point. :)

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: First Strike
innocent_man: (mine)
2012-12-09 12:46 pm

Movie #163: Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo is, of course, the Pixar movie about the little clown fish who goes out in the big ocean to find his son. Albert Brooks, Ellen Degeneres, and a lot of other awesome folks do voices.

Marlin (Brooks) and his wife Coral (Elizabeth Perkins) have their very own anemone by the dropoff, and have 400 eggs that they're eagerly waiting on hatching. But then a big ol' fish rocks up, kills Coral and all but one of the eggs, and leaves Marlin the single dad of a little fish called Nemo (Alexander Gould). A few years later, Nemo is ready to go to school, but Marlin is terrified and overprotective, which leads to Nemo getting taken by divers. Marlin, panicking, runs into a blue tang named Dory (Degeneres), and they go on a crazy adventure to find him.

This is complicated because Nemo has been added to a saltwater tank in a dentist's office. The tank includes a group of fish that readily take him in, but their leader, Gil (Willem Dafoe) has ongoing plans to escape.

Like most Pixar movies, the script is amazing (it got a Best Screenplay nomination, in fact). The way in which the ocean comes together to spread the word about Marlin searching for Nemo. I also like that there's not really any sugarcoating that animals eat each other, but it's understood to be nothing personal ("Sorry if I ever took a snap at you," says Nigel (Geoffrey Rush) the pelican). Marlin's character are is really well done, doesn't feel forced, and he starts off not only scared but actually kind of a jerk, but winds up learning to enjoy himself and displaying not only courage, but faith in his son and other people fish.

The emotional moments in the movie are genuine (the bit after Marlin thinks Nemo is dead where he tells Dory that all he wants to do is go home and forget, even though that essentially consigns Dory to losing the only home she has - with Marlin, she forgets where she is and why - tears me up every time), the laughs remain funny even though I've seen it a bunch of times, and, by the way, the amount of detail that went into making the fish swim correctly was insane. This is one of Pixar's best.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Finding Neverland
innocent_man: (bender)
2012-12-07 08:27 am

Movie #162: Fight Club

Fight Club is the movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter and Meat Loaf.

So you probably know the story: Norton's nameless character is an insomniac, hopeless, depressed office worker who meets Tyler Durden (Pitt), a cool, rebel, soap-makin' troll (I'll come back to that). The get to be buds, Nameless moves in with Durden, and they start Fight Club, an underground thing where Gen-X and Y dudes beat the crap out of each other. This blossoms into a terrorist organization that romps around the city doing horrible things, and culminates with them blowing up several credit card companies (the thinking there being everyone's debt goes to zero, and "it'll be total chaos"; I'm not sold on that point).

Oh, and the third act starts with the Big Reveal: Nameless is Tyler. Tyler's a hallucination. Wheee!

The movie is well-made from a technical and scripting standpoint, and it improves on a second viewing because you get a sense of how utterly insane Nameless seems when he's being so horrible to Marla (Bonham Carter) the mornings after; as far as Nameless knows, it's Tyler fucking this woman he can't stand, and he has to kick her out. Likewise, the scenes with Tyler and Nameless at Fight Club get weird if you remember there's only one of them, so who's talking out loud at any given point? I've never gone scene by scene to figure it out and I don't honestly care that much, but like I said, it's pretty tight in that sense.

Does the premise work? Is it believable that Tyler forms a cult of men who are so dissatisfied with their lives that, after getting hit in the head a bit, they're willing to give everything up and become terrorists? Or how about the police, bus drivers, sanitation workers, security guards...Tyler tells Nameless at the end of the movie that everyone's been cleared out of the areas around the buildings they're going to blow up, and in fairness financial districts don't tend to be very well populated at night, but seriously, as 9/11 showed us, you blow up a building and the debris can kill people easily enough. So any sympathy that Tyler might have gotten from us kinda should go away.

Which brings me back to the truth about Tyler: He's a troll. When we meet him, he's pissing into soup and splicing porn into kids' movies. He's a horrible, destructive asshole who operates under that "we're all animals at heart, women are our problem, we're all repressed" MRA bullshit that I and all right-thinking men hate so much. Now, in the context of the movie, he's not real - he's the pinnacle of cool from the perspective of a man who's so empty inside that he has to joined cancer survivor groups to pretend to have some depth.

The violence in the movie is graphic and explicit, but it always felt to me like the fights were too easy. Yeah, we see some hints that people have been injured, but slamming your head against concrete can, like, rattle your brain in your skull, which is a problem. But I don't know, maybe the amount of blood and teeth they throw around makes up.

Norton and Pitt both turn in great performances. Bonham Carter's character, I thought, was pretty well realized for what it was (a focus for the crazy between Norton and Pitt, a convenient scapegoat and some wasted third-act drama); Michelle felt she was kind of cardboard. Meat Loaf has a fun turn as a cancer survivor who joins the terrorist cell and winds up getting shot in the process.

All in all, it's a good movie in the sense that it's well-made, but I don't think it's aged well, and it doesn't resonate with me the way it did when I was 24 and seeing it in theaters. Which is good, 'cause I don't want to be like those assholes.

My grade: A- (love or hate the movie, it's kind of an important one)
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Finding Nemo
innocent_man: (lsd)
2012-12-02 11:35 pm

Movie #161: The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element is a sodding weird sci-fi action movie starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Gary Oldman and Ian Holm.

So: Every 5000, a giant evil planetoid comes to destroy all life, and it's up to an advanced race to assemble the four elements (air, earth, water, fire) around a fifth element, which creates a weapon to stop the evil. We learn about this in 1914, and then 300 years later, it's about to happen. A priest (Holm) with the passed-down knowledge of how all this works tells the President of the Federation (Tiny Lister) about all this...and then the craft carrying the "supreme being" gets shot down.

But then resurrected by an awesome 3D-life-printer as Leeloo (Jovovich). Watching the movie again, they do talk about how the supreme being has the same kind of DNA as a human, just a lot more genetic knowledge (if that's a thing) packed in. So I guess it makes sense that she's human-looking. What doesn't make a lot of sense is how she phonetically decodes English when she doesn't speak it, but whatever, she's super-smart.

Anyway, she escapes, crashes into a Special Forces op-turned-cabby named Korbin Dalls (Willis), and they eventually wind up saving the world from the evil.

The scripting and editing in this movie is amazing. They created this freakish, vibrant, at times dirty and oppressive and at times beautiful and awesome world. We have our second-tier villain in the form of weapons dealer and all around rich fucker Zorg (Oldman), who's trying to get to the Elemental Stones to sell them. For money. We learn pretty early on that for as scary as he can be, he's terrified of the evil (which he refers to as "Mr. Shadow" and is under the mistaken impression he'll be alive to spend the money). We also get Ruby Rhod (Tucker), the celebrity DJ who acts as sidekick to Dallas for the second act.

I personally think Tucker is annoying as hell, but that's what he's here for and he's not in the whole movie, or even the majority. Yes, he steals scenes, but he's good at backing off and requiring exposition, so he's got a reason to be there (also, he macks on girls with freckles, and I can get behind that).

If I have a complaint, it's that Korbin saying the magic words ("I love you") to get Leeloo to fight the evil was maybe a little hokey. But then, much is made of how innocent and vulnerable she is, so maybe it's appropriate. It's kind of a Raimi moment, almost - by the time the movie reaches that point, it's already been so over the top (OMG THE COSTUMES) that you don't care.

The production design is fantastic, the soundtrack is awesome, and the costumes are amazing. The movie is delightfully weird, and paced so well that it feels much shorter than it is.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Fight Club
innocent_man: (l&o&b)
2012-12-02 09:59 am

Movie #160: A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men is a military/courtroom drama based on the play by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollack, Keifer Sutherland and J. T. Walsh. Like everything Sorkin does, it's very dialog heavy, people walk quickly through hallways, but he manages to make people talking not boring, which is a gift.

So: Danny Kaffee (Cruise) is a lawyer who's joined the Navy for a three-year stint in JAG before he gets a real job. Jo Galliway (Moore) is an Internal Affairs lawyer who catches a case of two Marines in Gitmo who accidentally killed a squad-mate during a "Code Red," that is, a disciplinary measure within the Corps (common, but against the rules). Cruise wants to plea it out, the prosecutor (Bacon) is amenable, but the men won't go for it - they won't admit guilt. Cruise is ready to give up, but then he realizes that he was handed this case precisely because he always pleas out.

So it turns out that the base commander (Nicholson) and his senior officers (Sutherland and Walsh) were really responsible, insofar as they gave the orders for the Code Red (well, Walsh didn't, he wanted the dude transferred). The defense basically cooks down to "they were just following orders," but Cruise digs a little deeper into the psychology of the Marines in Cuba and why they do not question orders, ever, even if the orders are obviously morally wrong on their face. And he wins, insofar as Nicholson is arrested for perjury and the accused Marines are acquitted of murder (though, appropriately, they are dishonorably discharged).

It's good, it's iconic, and if you've ever heard someone thunder "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH," this movie is why. Cruise turns in one of his standard "cocky, young whatever" performances, but he's young enough that it still works. Nicholson gets to be an asshole, which he seems to enjoy, and you can see the progression in Sutherland's voice work that eventually landed him the gig in Monsters vs. Aliens.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium. Say what you want about Sorkin, he's very watchable.

Next up: The Fifth Element
innocent_man: (sun)
2012-11-30 01:42 pm

Movie #160: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids is an Apatow comedy, sort of. It's his company it feels kinda like his humor, but it passes the Bechdel without even trying. It's awkward as hell, enough to me me squirm, but very funny.

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is kind of at a loss. She's working at a jewelry store, but is a lousy salesperson. She's living with a brother and sister (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas) who are...not especially bright, invade her privacy and are generally creepy. Her mother wants her to move in; she's resistant. She's in a FWB relationship with an absolute creep (John Hamm). Her best friend (Maya Rudolph) Lil is her one source of joy...and now's Lil's getting married.

Happy for her friend, if a bit jealous and worried about how their relationship will change, Annie agrees to be maid of honor, and then meets Lil's fiance's boss' wife, Helen (Rose Byrne), who immediately sets about trying to usurp the position of "best friend" from Annie. Helen is beautiful, over-the-top, and rich, and Annie can't really measure up, but she tries (which is really the problem). The central conflict of the movie, then, is Annie fucking everything up - her job, her relationship with Lil, a promising relationship with a cop (Chris O'Dowd) who tries to help her come to terms with her fears...

Of course, that's ignoring the other bridesmaids, which would be a shame, because they're amazing. Megan (Melissa McCarthy) is the best of them - raunchy, blunt, overtly sex-positive and self-assured (she was nominated for an Oscar for the role). Rita (Wendy McLendon-Covey) is a mother of three horrible teen boys and has long since abandoned any identity of her own except complaining. Becca (Ellie Kemper) is a sweet newlywed, but as she talks with Rita she starts to realize that maybe she might be missing something. The chemistry between the actresses (Rudolph, Byrne and Wiig included) is fantastic.

I have to say, too, that O'Dowd is awesome in this movie. He doesn't swoop in and save Wiig, and when she hurts him, he says so and backs off. He's got a lot more identity than the Girlfriend roles that generally happen in male-oriented comedies (which may be due to this script being written by women - both the male and female roles are well-realized. Why do we suck, guys?).

The humor in Bridesmaids comes from suffering, but it's not a Job comedy in the vein of Meet the Parents. Instead, Wiig brings it on herself (and sometimes her friends) by being self-absorbed and depressed, and it's only when she takes a breath and works to correct her life that it improves. That's different than being a generally good person and have horrible shit happen to you - I like this way better. I'd rather see characters with some agency choose to be better.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: A Few Good Men
innocent_man: (peekaboo)
2012-11-25 09:17 pm

Movie #159: The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin is an animated film based on the comics by Herge, about a teenaged reporter named Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his dog, Snowy. They've had their fair share of crazy adventures, and this time they're following the story of a 17th-century ship called the Unicorn, wrecked centuries ago for reasons unknown.

Tintin falls in with a besotted sea captain called Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), last descendant of the captain of the Unicorn. He knows the secret of the ship, but he's so drunk most of the time that he can't remember it. Also pursuing the ship's treasure is an evil dude called Sacharine (Daniel Craig), who, it turns out, is the descendant of the pirate that took the ship and killed its crew.

The movie is amazing in its animation and art, but also in the scripting (the screenwriting team includes Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright, and I don't know who contributed what, but I love Wright's tight screenplays, and how nothing ever gets wasted or ignored - that's present here). The story isn't some lame-ass hero's journey. It's about Haddock, and it's very much just another of Tintin's adventures. He's never in any personal danger, this isn't his fight. He's just here for the story.

Haddock, however, has family honor and his own self-worth at stake, and so it's interesting for the POV character to be someone with only a professional interest. That makes Tintin a somewhat flat character story-wise, but since the story's not about him (the way it is with, say, Blade), that doesn't matter. And there's plenty of butt-biting humor from the dog to keep the wee ones entertained (Cael's sick, or he'd have been way more into this than he was).

Supporting cast (including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as two bumbling, identical policeman and Toby Jones as a kleptomaniac) is also fantastic. Action scenes are just exciting enough to get a kid's heart going, but not enough to be scary. And, again, the animation - the action scenes especially - is awesome.

All in all, I'm hoping they make a sequel, because it would be fun to see more of these adventures.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Bridesmaids
innocent_man: (mouseketeer)
2012-11-22 04:24 pm

Movie #157: Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000 is, of course, a sequel of sorts to the 1942 Disney classic "concert movie" Fantasia. Like its predecessor, it's a series of classical music pieces set to animated shorts, and it includes "Pomp and Circumstance", "Rhapsody in Blue", "Pines of Rome", "Firebird Suite", Beethoven's fifth symphony, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2, "Carnival of the Animals," and a repeat of the original's "Sorcerer's Apprentice."

It's very pretty, and having celebrities introduce the various pieces was a nice touch. The Firebird Suite, in which the forest is ravaged by an erupting volcano taking the shape of the fearsome firebird, is beautifully animated, and the Carnival of the Animals, where we have a flamingo who just wants to yo-yo, is fun. Pomp and Circumstance set to the myth of Noah's Ark was a nice touch, though it's such a somber piece that having Donald Duck in the background being wacky felt out of place at times.

The Rhapsody in Blue segment, animated in the style of Al Hirschfeld, is the best one, in my opinion. It's not as complex art-wise as some of the others, but it's the most playful and the most fun. My kids liked the movie as a whole a lot more than I thought they would, but that, I think, was their favorite (maybe the flamingos, too).

On the whole, though, I don't think it approaches the heart and innovation of the original. I think part of that is that in 1942, it was hugely original, and my father was there in Philly when it first opened, 10 years old, and said that "Night on Bald Mountain" scared the hell out of him. There's nothing so scary as the demon Czernobog in Fantasia 2000, and the movie kind of reads like chasing the high of the first one. Worth watching, though.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Ferris Beuller's Day Off
innocent_man: (bishop)
2012-11-22 04:04 pm

Movie #156: Fallen

Fallen is a supernatural horror/thriller movie starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, and Embeth Davidtz. It's easily one of my favorite movies, in part because it shows that you can do a demon movie without getting...I dunno. Overly religious, or too geeky.

We open with a man in the woods, flailing around for keys, and then apparently dying. A voiceover informs us that he's going to tell us about the time he almost died. And then we back up a ways...

So Detective John Hobbs (Washington) is a cop who's responsible for the capture of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas). But on the eve of his execution, Reese, unrepentant and unafraid, shakes Hobbs hand...and then apparently leaves his body upon death, enters the body of a guard, and flips into other bodies by touch. He immediately sets about fucking with Hobbs, who investigates weird killings. Meanwhile, he follows up on clues that "Reese" left him, and that leads him to another cop, who died 30 years ago after stopping a killer similar to Reese. That cop's daughter, Greta (Davidtz), is reluctant to help Hobbs, but seems to know more than she should.

Long and short: It's a demon called Azazel, and it moves by touch to whoever it wants (but for whatever reason, it can't enter Hobbs by touch). It jumps into his co-workers (including a younger James Gandolfini), his nephew, and makes him kill an innocent man. It leaves him messages written on bodies, and frames him to the point that his boss (Sutherland) and partner (Goodman) aren't sure what's really happening. And then Hobbs figures a way to kill it - the demon is vulnerable without a body, and if he can trap it in a dying body, miles from nowhere...

All through the movie there are voiceovers in Hobbs' voice that tell us about the struggle between them, but the end of the movie sees Hobbs, now possessed by Azazel, flailing around in the snow...well, shit.

The writing in Fallen is really tight and clever. The story is seamless, and everyone's performance is nicely understated. Washington, in particular, manages to convey the role of a good, moral man in the midst of a downfall that he doesn't deserve and can do nothing to prevent, trying to control himself and just succeeding. His reaction upon his brother's (Gabriel Casseus, in another amazing performance) death is one of the most moving things I've seen from Washington.

Anyway, among its many merits, Fallen is an exercise for GMs in how to make it look like you meant this all along, which I've used to great effect in my games. If you haven't seen it, I apologize for the spoilers, but really, watch it.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Fantasia 2000
innocent_man: (labrodors)
2012-11-14 09:12 am

Movie #155: Face/Off

Face/Off is a John Woo action flick starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. It's pretty absurd, especially where little things like physics are concerned, but that's kinda par for the course for Woo.

Sean Archer (Travolta) is a high-ranking FBI agent. Castor Troy (Cage) is a terrorist-for-hire. When Troy tries to kill Archer, he accidentally kills Archer's five-year-old son instead (something I never noticed before: Before he takes the shot, Troy looks down at his drink and misses that the boy is snuggled up to his dad; he waits until he thinks the kid is clear before shooting. That's subtle, and I like that it's never called out). Archer, naturally, spends the next X years obsessively tracking Troy and his brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), until he finally catches up with them. Both brothers are caught, but Castor is supposedly killed.

But no, he's just in a coma. And a good thing, too, because there's this bomb that's going to blow up in LA, and only Pollux knows where it is. So, obviously, the only option is an experimental surgical procedure that switches the faces of Archer and Troy (like, literally, they take their faces off and graft Troy's to Archer's head, along with a half-dozen other little procedures to cover the face that Cage is much leaner than Travolta). And then Archer (now in Troy's face and body) goes into Erehwon prison (a secret, illegal prison somewhere in the ocean), talks Pollux into revealing where the bomb is, and all is well...

Oh, except Troy wakes up, has his goons go get the doctor responsible and the two agents who know about the plan (this is all highly illegal so it's off the books), and has the doctor make Troy into Archer. DUN-DUN-DUN. (Oh, then he kills everybody, which personally I think might have been a bit of an oversight. Why not kidnap the doctor and keep him alive, so that he could switch them back eventually? Then again Troy isn't presented as the most lucid of individuals.)

So now Archer has to escape, find Troy, foil his evil plans, convince his wife that he is who he says, blah blah.

The movie actually has some interesting nuance, and it's easy to miss under all the stupid physics. Troy, no matter who's playing him, is gleeful, chaotic and violent, almost Joker-like, but then his brother dies and it's just not fun anymore. He gets it back a little in the final confrontation, but there's an anger and a personal hurt that wasn't there before. The actors really put effort into creating these characters and then playing them differently, and it reads (as does Archer's anguish at having to be Troy). There's almost a moment where Troy starts to understand what he really did to Archer, but it doesn't quite read (at the graveyard; I'd like to know what Travolta was going for there). And then there's the bit in the one gunfight where they wind up pointing guns at mirrors, therefore at the people they'd really like to shoot.

Body count is high, but yeah, it's a Woo film. Lots of slo-mo, some doves at the end. It's a good action flick, and it twigged me a bit when I first saw it, but I was 23 and in a weird place. Now it just is what it is.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low. Little heavy for fun action, little stupid for serious action.

Next up: Fallen
innocent_man: (mouseketeer)
2012-11-12 08:42 pm

Movie #154: The Expendables

The Expendables wants to be something that it's not. It wants, I think, to be a mashup of action movie stars in the way that League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a mashup of Victorian literature. It comes close...

Sly Stallone stars as Barney Ross (he also directs), leader of the Expendables, a group of badass mercenaries. We first see them taking out a bunch of Somalian (we assume) pirates who have kidnapped some American citizens and are holding them for ransom. One of them, Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) goes nuts and has to be subdued. "Life got to him," notes Barney. "It'll get to us all."

We learn a little about Lee Christmas (Jason Steakums); he's dating a girl (Charisma Carpenter) who's traded up for a dude that doesn't vanish for a month at a time with no contact. This stings, but he copes.

And then a scene at the group's hangout with their fixer, Tool (Mickey Rourke), and a meeting with the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) and a competitor (Arnold Schwarzeneggar), and then zoom! Off to the island nation of Vilena to look into assassinating the evil General Garza (David Zayas), but then they meet Sandra (Giselle Itie), who turns out to be the general's daughter...

Look. The whole movie is an excuse for some kickass action scenes, lots of gunplay, a little knifeplay (which of course I appreciate), and a lot of testosterone. The finer points of the plot aren't exactly so fine, and mostly it's about getting all these dudes together on screen.

Which would have been fine: the team is Stallone, Statham, Jet Li (so far, so good)...but then we get Terry Crews and Randy Couture, both athletes, but not action movie stars (yes, they've both been in movies, but really, up next to longtime stars like Lundgren and new hotness like Statham?). They tried to get Wesley Snipes and couldn't because he wasn't allowed to leave the country, and several other attempts to get people who were more widely known failed. I'd be interested to see the sequel just because the team expands a bit and we get Van Damme and Norris, who both make sense.

It's an interesting premise, there are some cool stunts and fight scenes, and the movie is just internally consistent enough to be watchable. I'm not a fan of the girl getting tortured until she can be rescued (seriously, girls ain't shit in this movie but plot devices, but at least they don't get raped or killed, just beaten and waterboarded), and what was probably intended as a cute naming convention (Toll Road, Hale Caeser, Yin Yang) just kind of comes off corny. But hey, if the aim was to put together a movie reminiscent of 80s action, they came pretty close.

My grade: B
Rewatch Value: Medium-low

Next up: Face/Off
innocent_man: (morbo)
2012-11-08 08:30 pm

Movie #153: Evolution

Evolution is a silly comedy in the spirit of Ghostbusters, but without nearly the skill or wit, starring David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Juliane Moore and Seannnnn Willllliammm Scotttt, and directed by Ivan Reitman.

Duchovny and Jones are college professors at a community college in a small town in Arizona. Jones, who is the local rep for the USGS, goes out to investigate a meteor strike (and takes his colleague Ira Kane (Duchovny) along "in case I actually have to do something scientific"; he's the Venkman of the group). Turns out the meteor is filled with a blue goo teeming with single-celled organisms, that rapidly evolve into mutli-celled, then flatworms, then insects, birds, reptiles...and they're spreading.

The army, led by General Woodman (Ted Levine) and with a CDC rep in tow (Moore), rolls in and seals the area off, but not very well. The creatures are spreading, and it's up to Kane, Block (Jones), Reed (Moore) and a local firefighter cadet Wayne Gray (Scott) to fight the aliens and kill them! With a...fire truck full of shampoo.

OK, unlike Ghostbusters, which had a problem and a solution full of psuedoscience that it didn't even try to explain, Evolution actually tries to make a shred of sense, and there it fails miserably. The third act is appalling in its laziness - the aliens grow and evolve in response to fire, so Jones just lights up a cigarette (despite not being a smoker) and tosses the match. This is utterly unrealistic; adults do not spontaneously start smoking because there is no pleasure in smoking unless you already have a standing addiction, and the only way to get that is to become hooked as an idiot teenager.

Ahem. Seem to have wandered a bit. No, really, it's just a contrived way to set the aliens on fire because that shows our heroes that the general's plan to napalm them is a mistake. Also, Duchovny's realization that because moving two down and one over from carbon on the periodic table gives you arsenic (poison to us), doing the same thing for nitrogen gives you the aliens' poison (since they're nitrogen-based, and that makes selenium their poison). Kind of a strange leap to make, and I'm pretty sure that if the screenwriters had consulted Dan Ackroyd (on hand to play the governor of Arizona), he might have been able to come up with a more elegant means of destroying the aliens, or point them toward someone who could.

But for all that, the movie is fun. Jones, Duchovny, Moore and even Scott have some nice chemistry between them, and they seem to be having fun. Yes, there are perhaps more butt and fart jokes than I need, but there are also a couple of decent chuckles, and although the special effects having aged especially well, the creatures look pretty cool in places. It's not high art, but it's not terrible.

My grade: C+
Rewatch value: Medium high

Next up: The Expendables