A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 92 – The Rock

The Rock – May 31st, 2010

It being Memorial Day here in the US, we decided we wanted to watch something at least tangentally related to the US armed forces. And then we looked through our collection. We don’t have much in the way of war or soldier movies. We don’t own Saving Private Ryan. We don’t own Good Morning Vietnam (yet). We just don’t buy war movies. Huh. So I scrolled through the list and picked out a couple that would be really horrible ideas. And a couple that might work. When I hit The Rock I thought “Huh, isn’t the whole reason Ed Harris’ character and his Marines steal the chemical weapon and take the Alcatraz tour group hostage to get the attention of the government because they’ve covered up the deaths of soldiers? It’s the whole first scene.” And I was right. Sure, this is massively over the top and involves domestic terrorism and Sean Connery hamming it up. But well, if I was going to take it far more seriously than a popcorn action movie, which is really what it is, there’s a thread of respect for the armed forces running through it, from the Navy SEALS who help our leads to infiltrate Alcatraz to the whole “respect our fallen soldiers” plot. So while it’s a Micheal Bay explosion-fest action flick, I think it’s suitable for today.

Part of what makes this an interesting action movie is that you’re meant to see the bad guys as having a point. Their methods are totally and completely unacceptable in any way, but their message is one that the viewer is supposed to empathize with. The government even pretty much admits to it. The reactions to Hummel’s initial speech are a mix of disbelief, shock and the look that comes from knowing that if what he says gets out, the public reaction will be hideous beyond belief. And then there’s Connery’s character, Mason, a former British secret agent who’s been held without trial for the past twenty-five years. They know they did bad things. So the bad guys are bad guys because of how they’re handling it, not because of why. It’s an interesting set-up. It creates a level of tension in the movie on top of the chemical weapon stuff and the odd couple team of Connery-the-aging-secret-agent and Cage-the-geeky-scientist infiltrating a hostage situation. It means you can’t unequivocally wish for the bad guys to get it. I mean, with the car chase through San Francisco, the good guys do more damage to civilians and civilian property than the bad guys do. There’s a whole confrontation between the Navy SEALS and the Marines under Hummel’s command that underlines just what I’m talking about. The “good guys” agree with the “bad guys” motives but not their actions. It’s an impossible situation. Which is what makes the tension perfect.

I’ve probably given enough of the plot already, but for the sake of completeness, here’s an overview to catch the bits I missed. Hummel, a heavily decorated Brigadier General, angry about the government’s cover-up of the deaths of soldiers on black ops missions, steals several rockets full of a chemical agent called VX (which really exists and is super nasty but doesn’t make your skin melt off) and takes a bunch of hostages who were on a tour of Alcatraz. He threatens to shoot the rockets off to San Francisco if the government doesn’t transfer some money and do something, whatever. He makes the threat and he’s got a crapload of civilian hostages so the government calls in their best chemical weapons guy, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nic Cage) and former secret agent John Mason (Sean Connery) who’s the only known person to have escaped alive from Alcatraz. They infiltrate the island and have to get to all the VX rockets and remove the guidance chips from them so they’ll “harmlessly” splash into the water. Never mind the damage they’d do in the water, but whatever, fine. So the majority of the movie is Goodspeed and Mason sneaking around Alcatraz and getting in the occasional fight with some of the Marines holding it, finding rockets and disabling them. Mason starts out thinking Goodspeed’s a useless schmuck but around when Goodspeed disables the first rocket he clearly gains some respect for him. Obviously Goodspeed’s no soldier, but he does know his shit and his shit is lethal. So they disable all but two rockets and the climax of the movie involves one rocket being launched and the government sending in a team of fighter jets to firebomb the whole place to destroy the VX and Goodspeed has to disable the last rocket before that happens. But of course he can’t just go find them, he has to deal with the remaining Marines, who mutiny so you don’t have to empathize with them anymore and can cheer when they get offed in a variety of creative ways.

Really, beyond the soldier stuff, this is a buddy flick about Mason and Goodspeed, two guys who’d never have met otherwise and who initially don’t like each other, coming to work together and respect each other. Goodspeed starts out thinking Mason’s an old crank who’s really pretty fucking scary. Mason starts out thinking Goodspeed’s totally useless and a burden to drag around. Some of the best moments in the movie involve the two of them, with either Goodspeed actually seeing some action and being alternately horrified and empowered by it, or Mason doing some awesome Alcatraz breakout stuff and wowing Goodspeed. They have some fantastic interactions that make the movie fun to watch as more than just an action flick. Ed Harris as Hummel is fantastic too, doing what I mentioned above: Imbuing the enemy with a sense of purpose that you and everyone else in the movie are meant to care about. I’m not bothering to much mention the whole thing about Goodspeed’s girlfriend and how she’s pregnant and it’s meant to give him purpose. I get it, but I think he has enough purpose without mentioning her. He mentions her like, twice, and then really his focus is on the VX rockets and how they’ll kill millions. It gives his character a little more depth, like Mason’s daughter (who’s only met her father once before due to his unrecorded incarceration) gives his character depth. But it’s not a major force in the movie for me. The major force for me is Mason and Goodspeed and Hummel and the Marines and the rockets. That’s what I watch it for.

Some final notes: Did Klaus Badelt watch this a lot before doing the music for Pirates of the Caribbean? Because the main theme in this movie, done by Hans Zimmer, is incredibly similar. Eerily so. And this came first. Also, this is a Michael Bay movie, and you know what that means: Explosions. It’s impressive. Being fans of Mythbusters, we’ve watched some specials about how they do those fancy car explosions and what car explosions actually look like when they happen and the force that an explosion like that has. So now when I see big fancy car explosions, I can’t help but think about that. It doesn’t make the movie less enjoyable, but it does make me chuckle. Then too, Mythbusters did an Alcatraz escape episode, so really, one could patch together a The Rock themed Mythbusters episode. That would be fun. Anyhow, this is an enjoyable semi-serious action movie with enough humorous dialogue (gallows humor, to be sure, but humor nonetheless) to make you smile between the seriousness and the explosions. What more can one ask for from a popcorn action flick?

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May 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | 2 Comments

The Rock

May 31, 2010

The Rock

I choose to view this movie as James Bond flick. Just a kind of AU James Bond. In the sixties Bond was captured by the FBI and has been in American custody in a supermax prison ever since. And this movie is the story of how he eventually escapes. All the rest of the movie is just window dressing. Big, exploding, noisy, window dressing.

Actually, for a Michael Bay movie this is pretty much the cream of the crop. It’s got all his usual explody nonsense, but it’s better done than his more recent junk. The plot involves a U.S. general driven bad by the government’s refusal to acknowledge the sacrifices made by soldiers under his command in top secret black ops. When he and his team steal a bunch of chemical weapons and hole up on Alcatraz to demand that the soldiers’ families get compensation the only way to stop him is for a desk-jockey FBI chemical weapons expert and the only living man to have broken out of the Rock to join a group of navy seals and take the prison back. Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Well it’s far more convoluted and silly in practice. There’s a daring raid on a high-security weapons depot. There’s a big San Francisco car chase that ends with an improbably large explosion. There’s a lengthy mine cart fight scene. It’s not really explained why there are mine carts in the tunnels beneath Alcatraz (perhaps they’re part of the laundry?) It’s a big mess of stupidity and adrenaline pumping action.

The only reason this movie works as more than a stupid summer action flick (which is what it mostly is) is that the casting is better than you might expect given the plot summary above. Ed Harris as General Hummel plays an interestingly human bad guy. He has to carefully walk the line between driven madman and honorable soldier. Nick Cage is the FBI agent who’s out of his element. And of course James Bond himself – Sir Sean Connery – is the FBI prisoner whose brain holds the key to getting in to Alcatraz to save everyone. It’s Sean’s movie, really. Everybody else is just playing in it.

Watching this movie tonight I’m struck by how much it is part of a progression in summer action blockbusters. You can see that Michael Bay is refining the tool-set that was developed through the action blockbusters of the eighties and early nineties. It’s got the kill-the-badguys-one-at-a-time formula forged in such action greats as Commando and Under Siege. It’s got military camaraderie as seen in Aliens and Abyss (including Michael Biehn as one of the marines sent in with Cage and Connery.) It’s got the girlfriend looking on in concern waiting to hear back from her boyfriend as seen in Apollo 13. It’s an amalgam of great action moments all strung together. And of course in bits like the trolley car tossed in the air and then sliding along the ground after Cage’s character it presages the silly excess of Michael Bay movies to come. (Some of which we will be reviewing later!)

I do enjoy a good turn-off-your-brain movie, and this is amongst the best. Action and explosions with a bare framework of a plot. If you try to think about it you’ll hurt yourself, but in general it’s fun to watch. And, really, has Sean Connery ever been anything but easy on the eyes? He’s so believable as a kick-ass but still suave hero even in his sixties that it’s simply unfair to us lesser mortals.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment

Movie 91 – Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters for DVD

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters for DVD – May 30th, 2010

Have you seen any of Aqua Teen Hunger Force? The show, I mean. Okay, now take a season and string the episodes together and loosely connect them and you’d get something slightly more coherent than this. It starts with a very metal pre-movie short about how Satan will rain acid down your throat and turn your guts into snakes if you make noise during the movie. Then there’s a bedtime story Shake tells that incorporates the stills from the closing credits of the show. And then there’s the movie. And it has a plot, sort of. I guess. In a way. It involves robots and an exercise machine and the destruction of the Earth. There are many characters from the show, like the Cybernetic Ghost and MC Peepants and background cameos of a lot more, because they’re all about the fanservice.

This is going to be a short review, sorry. But it’s a short movie and if I go on much longer I’ll just end up rambling as much as the movie does, and we don’t want that. The movie is 86 minutes long. 86 minutes. That’s less than an hour and a half long. And then there’s 80 minutes of deleted footage on the bonus disc. That’s impressive in a cracky sort of way. But the deleted footage isn’t part of this, so all we’ve got is the movie itself. It’s sort of an origin story, but only in the last twenty minutes and it’s a far cry from taking it seriously. But then I didn’t expect serious or coherent from this. I expected rambling and dick jokes and Shake being a jackass. I expected fanservice and lots of callbacks to the show. I expected weirdness and I got it and I like it. Sure, it’s totally all over the place and it rambles and makes things more confused instead of explaining anything, but it wouldn’t be Aqua Teen Hunger Force if it made sense. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

I don’t know if it’s even worth trying to explain the plot. There’s this whole thing about a giant robotic exercise machine and how it should never be made and Dr. Weird’s involved and either he made the Aqua Teens or Frylock’s his father and who the hell knows, you know? And everyone bands together to make the exercise machine and then it destroys stuff and Carl gets eviscerated and the Aqua Teens and Dr. Weird fight and then Ignignokt and Err show up and there’s a melon that wants their real estate and their mother is a nine layer bean burrito voiced by Tina Fey.

See what I mean about the plot? As Shake puts it: “Well! That. Explains. A lot.”

May 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters For DVD

May 30, 2010

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters For DVD

This is undoubtedly the strangest thing we own.

There. That’s my review.

Well… okay… I suppose I should write maybe a little more than that.

Thousands of years ago, when my wife and I lived in Pennsylvania, Cartoon Network started a late-night television experiment called “Adult Swim.” In the original line up there was Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, The Brak Show, Sealab 2021 and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, as well as re-runs of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. We watched it every time we had a chance and bought many a DVD of shows. Sadly, The Brak Show was canceled and Birdman ended after four seasons. Aqua Teens, however just never ends. It wasn’t on for a while, but then it came back, and every once in a while when we randomly flip past Cartoon Network around midnight we see an episode that we’ve never seen before.

Aqua teens is a sort of filthy stream-of-consciousness series of eleven minute cartoons about a trio of animated foodstuffs (a shake, some fries, and a ball of meat) and their hapless neighbor Carl and all the random stuff that happens to them. It involves minimal animation (which is part of its appeal – they find all kinds of clever ways to use the same animation cycles in new ways.) It’s impossible to describe to anybody, really. It’s easier to pop in a DVD and just show a couple of the episodes. And since they’re so short (Just long enough to occupy the space between two ad breaks) it’s easy to consume them in mass quantities. They’re kind of the unhealthy greasy fast-food equivalents of television episodes. All the flavor but none of the nutrition.

I can’t really explain why I enjoy Aqua Teens. We own four or five DVD sets of episodes, and pull them out to watch them once in a while when we need something quick for a laugh. I don’t have the excuse of being a college age pot-head – which is what they imply is the target audience. I do enjoy them, though. I enjoy the recurring characters like the Moonanites and the Plutonians and MC Pee Pants. I like the rapid-fire humor and the random violence. You can never predict where an episode is going to go with its premise, although odds are that there will be random explosions, drug and sex references, maybe some guest appearances by random celebrities, Meatwad being silly and childish, Shake being a cad, Carl suffering some awful fate and Frylock saying “Oh my god!” Never expect continuity between episodes (since any cast member could die at any moment) or even continuity within a single eleven minute period. Do expect callbacks and references and recurring characters and almost as many jokes crammed into a small block of time as you find in an MST3K episode.

I’m not even going to attempt to explain how something like this got expanded into an almost 90 minute movie that was actually released in theaters. Nor will I try to summarize the plot of this lengthy episode. (It has something to do with the origins of the Aqua Teens and with a deadly exercise machine.) I can’t even say if it’s actually any good. It’s all too crazy and strange. I do really like the first ten minutes or so, first with the singing concession stand candy (which makes sense since we’ve seen singing concession stand candy in the theater before.) Then with the extended opening song and its fantastically animated accompaniment. It’s like Fantasia meets Aqua Teens for just a couple brilliant moments. Then the movie gets started for real, and it’s just one extremely long Aqua Teen episode.

Part of the appeal of the Aqua Teens, I think, is that it’s bite sized fast food TV. Stretching it out to almost and hour and a half makes it sit in your stomach like a big greasy mess. It’s too dense and heavy for a full meal. It’s like when I go to Benn & Bill’s and buy a half pound of marzipan, then eat it all in one afternoon.

I’ll leave you with the two biggest distinctions this movie has. One: it has probably the longest title of any movie in our collection. And two: it is the only movie I can think of that had a promotional program which shut down an entire metropolitan city for a day. That’s got to count for something.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 90 – The Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie – May 29th, 2010

Can you believe we have no Dennis Hopper movies? None. We checked. So we’ve made a note of that and will be rectifying it soon. Unfortunately that means we can’t honor him tonight by watching one of his movies. So we’re watching The Muppet Movie instead. A road trip movie about a frog with big dreams being chased by a fast food frog leg purveyor named Doc Hopper. Okay, I admit it, that’s a horrible non-connection to Dennis Hopper. I apologize. But that’s no reason not to watch this movie and enjoy it.

Much like The Great Muppet Caper, which was made after this one, the fourth wall is in a weird place with this movie. The conceit of it is that the movie you watch is also being watched by the Muppets and is the origin story for Kermit and Fozzie and Miss Piggy and Gonzo and Rolf and the Electric Mayhem and everyone else. The movie begins with the Muppets, Statler and Waldorf included, gathering together for a screening of the movie they’ve made. And so you and they settle in to watch it.

Kermit meets an agent in the swamp and with a little encouragement heads off to Hollywood to become rich and famous. Along the way he meets Fozzie, then the Electric Mayhem, then Gonzo and Camilla (who say that Hollywood is the easy way – Bombay, India is the way they’d do it – which makes me wonder why there isn’t a Bollywood Muppet movie yet), then Miss Piggy, then Rolf, and bit by bit the group forms as they cross the country. The villain, Doc Hopper, wants Kermit to be the spokesfrog for his frog leg restaurants but Kermit, of course, wants nothing to do with it. Doc Hopper, being a villain, decides he’s going to get Kermit one way or another and chases him through the movie, employing a mad scientist who is an expert in frog mind control and a frog bounty hunter amongst others. It’s ridiculous, of course, and while I’ve read in a few places that Kermit’s journey was supposed to be a loose reference to Jim Henson’s own life and the beginning of his career, I doubt he had a maniacal fast food king hunting him down for his legs.

Anyhow, Kermit and his rag tag bunch of dogs, pigs, chickens, bears and whatevers defeat Doc Hopper and make it to Hollywood where they’re signed to the “standard Rich and Famous contract” and make the movie about their journey. Whereupon they sing the closing number and Sweetums shows up and interrupts the screening, breaking the tenuous fourth wall (already made thin by numerous lines directed at the audience and a copy of the script handed to Dr. Teeth so he can catch up) and entering the theater. Now, I never saw this in the theater, but the movie geek in me finds that particular moment really awesome. There’s larger-than-life Sweetums crashing the movie and the theater and there you are, in the theater too! Awesome! You’re part of the whole thing, screening the movie with the Muppets!

The movie itself is full of the odd and pun-tastic Muppets humor that makes me love them so much. There are definitely lines from this that have entered our reference vocabulary (Beaker’s meeped “Sadly temporary” has become a sort of universal expression of regret and dismay for us) and jokes that will always make me laugh, no matter how inane. The music is fantastic, especially the Electric Mayhem numbers and Rainbow Connection and the guest stars are awesome, even if many of them wouldn’t be so easily recognizable to a younger audience today. Many of them had been on the original Muppet Show and I love that they came back for the movie, so who cares? The newer Muppet movies have newer celebrities. That’s just how it works. What I really love about the Muppets is that as a group, they’re relatively timeless. I mean, look at the Electric Mayhem. You’d think they’d seem dated, but they don’t. They exist in their own little bubble. And hey, in 1979 they were talking about converting a church into a coffee house with good music and organic food. Mellow and profitable. Gee, an organic coffee house with music? How very prescient. But the majority of the jokes don’t depend on the year or the decade. And the spirit of the movie isn’t dependent on it either. It’s just plain great to watch.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Muppet Movie

May 29, 2010

The Muppet Movie

“What’s a Muppet?” “Well, it’s not quiet a mop, and it’s not quite a puppet but… in short: I don’t know.”

It’s hard to believe (as is asserted on the special features on this disk) that there was once a time when people doubted that the Muppets could sustain a feature length film. Sure they were okay on the small screen, but would people really pay to sit in a theater and watch a puppet show? Jim Henson believed they would, and as we all know Jim was a man who was adept at getting other people to share his vision.

A lot of effort has been made to make the movie a more cinematic experience than the TV show. There are wide establishing shots that provide the Muppets with lower extremities. There are outdoor locations. Muppets drive cars and ride bicycles. There are all kinds of tricks to make the Muppets into big screen stars, but what makes the movie great isn’t any of that. It’s the chemistry and camaraderie of the Muppets themselves that really makes the movie.

One of the great things Jim had a knack for was bringing together people who worked well with each other, and all of the performers here had two seasons of the show to get into their characters before they made the leap onto the big screen. So these are the Muppet performers at the absolute top of their game. Jim and Jerry and Richard and Frank and Dave and Steve… they have the patter and the spirit of the Muppets down so perfectly. The movie is full of fantastic moments, and fantastic writing.

The movie purports to be the tale of how the Muppets first got together. Which is a great concept, since there really was no back story to the show. There were all these performers in this dilapidated theater, but no real explanation for why they had gathered there. Most of the time in the movies when you’ve got an origin story it’s a well known tale (or maybe that’s just because I own so many comic book movies) so it’s nice to see an origin story that is actually all new. (Or was when this was filmed.) So cool is the idea of how all these weirdos met and became a sort of extended family that the next two Muppet movies mined much of the same territory.

This might well have been one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater all the way through. (Since I famously was never able to sit all the way through Star Wars on its first run.) As a child seeing this in the theater this was my introduction to a lot of big Hollywood stars. This was the first movie I saw Bob Hope in. And Steve Martin and Mel Brooks and Orson Welles. Which was always one of the great things about the variety hour format of the Muppets – all these people I had never heard of who wanted to work with them. In many ways I think my love for the movies in general probably started right here with this film.

And there’s so much magic here as well. Like the fantastic duet that Jim Henson has with himself when Kermit and Rowlf sing “Something Better” or the great scenery and silly puns of “Moving Right Along.” The “Rainbow Connection” song and reprise still give me goose-bumps. I really do think that Kermit’s desire to make millions of people happy was probably one of Jim Henson’s biggest motivating factors as well. Certainly it’s something I wish more people would aspire to.

Let me not forget the other true star of the whole movie: the fantastic music and songs of Paul Williams. The whole soundtrack is pure gold! Every single song is catchy and gets in your head and makes you smile. (Although the sappy “Never Before” song of Miss Piggy’s always made me roll my eyes, I can’t help but grin thinking of Frank Oz hitting those high notes.) Indeed while watching this movie I hit iTunes to see if I could grab the soundtrack and was bitterly disappointed to find it not there. If I don’t have the CD lying around the apartment somewhere I’m going to have to hit Amazon tonight. I can’t get the thunderous tunes of Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem out of my mind – and I don’t want to.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 89 – The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element – May 28th, 2010

This movie is so bizarre. I mean, it’s not totally incomprehensible. It doesn’t leave me scratching my head. It’s no Un Chien Andalou or anything. We’re not talking experimental film or plotless mood piece. There’s a plot. There’s good acting. It’s mostly coherent except when Leeloo’s speaking her nonsense language. And even then it’s coherent on a larger scale. You know she’s speaking nonsense. You know no one can understand her. So it’s not like you’re sitting there watching the movie going “I’m missing something, aren’t I.” It’s just a bizarre movie. It’s all over the place. Not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a lot to take in.

First, there’s the overarching plot. Some big bad destructive force is speeding towards Earth to destroy all life because it’s apparently the antithesis of life and that’s what the antithesis of life does. The key to stopping that is the Fifth Element, which has been locked up in a temple in Egypt for thousands of years, awaiting the attack. In order to activate said element, magic stones representing the other four have to be put in place and activated at the right time. That’s all well and good, but about two hundred and fifty plus years after the intro some rubbery aliens blow up a ship where the Fifth Element is now being protected and it has to be recreated. Then the stones have to be found, which is made difficult by at least three different factions wanting them, and they all have big guns. And then everything needs to be taken back to that temple so the world can be saved. Hurrah. That’s not a terribly far out sci-fi movie plot there, you know? So it’s a little sci-fi/fantasy. No big. I can run with that.

Second, there’s the particulars. The Fifth Element isn’t a thing, it’s a person. It’s a person shaped like a mostly naked orange haired Milla Jovovitch and she doesn’t speak English right away. And like I said, there are three factions looking for the stones: The government, which is portrayed as well-meaning but somewhat brutish and slow. The rubbery aliens, who are also brutish and slow but more violent. And Zorg, played by Gary Oldman with some amazing false teeth and a southern accent, who is a business man who makes guns and runs all sorts of business and is somehow in cahoots with the antithesis of life. Which calls him on the phone. Nice trick for a planetoid. So the Fifth Element, Leeloo, doesn’t know what’s up with the folks who recovered her and runs off. She crashes into a cab driven by Korben Dallas, played by a refreshingly low-key Bruce Willis. There is nothing else low-key in this whole movie, so thank goodness for Dallas. He gets her to a priest who knows about the stones, and they set off to recover them.

Third, it’s so not that simple, if simple can even be used at this point. The government enlists Dallas to get to this luxury hotel where an alien diva will be singing, since the alien diva is also the caretaker of the magic stones. The priest steals his tickets to the hotel (which is on another planet) and runs off with Leeloo. Dallas follows and catches up with them but not before Zorg and the aliens both find out where he’s headed and who’s got the stones. So one by one they all try to get on board the ship going to the hotel and eventually everyone gets there including the least low-key member of the cast: Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, a fast-talking DJ who never ever ever fucking shuts up for one second he’s on screen. If he’s not talking he’s screaming or babbling nonsense syllables. He’s also apparently like the Justin Bieber of his time. Or something. Only more flamboyant and with better hair. Maybe he’s more like the Johnny Weir of his time but without the ice skates. Girls swoon over him and all the stewardesses on the ship to the hotel want him and he’s this big ball of sex. Played by a constantly-babbling Chris Tucker. Whatever. Like I said, thank goodness for Dallas. So everyone ends up on the hotel, which is a ship and there’s a big ol’ shootout with the big guns everyone has and people get shot and lots of stuff explodes and of course they find the stones and the bad guys die and they book it back to Earth to save the day.

It’s a hell of a lot. And it’s all done at a frenetic pace in a screen full of things moving and people talking and there are very few quiet moments in the whole movie. It just keeps going and going and going while everything in every shot keeps going and going. The colors are all bright and day-glo and the future is kind of gritty and shiny at the same time. It sort of reminds me of bits of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Or I guess the other way around. The setting’s got a similar feel in places but with more plastic. Part of the point of the hectic pace and constant background chatter is to inject some humor into the movie, and that works some of the time, not so much in others. Really, Leeloo and Dallas are the heart of the film, though I do also love Ian Holm as the priest. But it’s weird. My eighth grade English teacher hated it when people called things weird. She thought it was a cop-out. But if all of what I’ve said above doesn’t explain what I mean by the use of the word, I don’t know if I can make it any clearer. Leeloo’s language (created by Luc Besson and Milla Jovovitch), the dirty artificial world full of prepackaged shine, Gary fucking Oldman, Chris fucking Tucker? It’s just all weird. I mean, I like it and all, but there is no way it’s not bizarre.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Fifth Element

May 27, 2010

The Fifth Element

I remember being extremely disappointed in this movie the first time I saw it. I blame the marketing campaign. It was marked as a cool summer sci-fi action flick. I had it in my head that since it was written and directed by Luc Besson and starred Bruce Willis that it would be like a hardcore futuristic sci-fi version of La Femme Nikita. It’s not that kind of movie at all, so I was mightily let down when I got my chance to watch it.

You can kind of understand my confusion if you go purely by the visuals of the movie. It has a fantastic production design aesthetic. The cool flying cars that fill the skies. The whole futuristic world feels kind of like Brazil crossed with Blade Runner. The airport is piled high with garbage on one wall from floor to ceiling. The guns and tech are all cool and explody. But you can’t really make assumptions about what kind of movie this is from it’s very slick visual aesthetic.

The truth of the matter is that this movie is something altogether other than what I was expecting. With many more viewings I have come to appreciate it for what it is: a big budget slapstick action/comedy. It’s more akin to Judge Dredd or Demolition Man. The main bad guys are an annoying business man and arms dealer (played with much scenery chewing by the ultimate film chameleon Gary Oldman) and a squad of rubber-faced mercenaries who are never really threatening despite their tendency to randomly blow things up.

When an malevolent planetoid threatens to destroy all life the only hope of the universe lies in the use of an ancient weapon that uses four elemental stones and a fifth element – the ultimate being. Jean-Baptiste Emanuele Zorg (Oldman’s character) is in cahoots with the evil planet (presumably because he can profit from the chaos it will bring about.) Through a series of preposterous circumstances the ultimate being – Leeloo comes to Korben Dallas – an ex special forces major who is down on his luck and working as a cab driver. Leeloo and Korben and Zorg and a priest and the mercs all end up on a cruise ship called Floston’s Paradise to do battle for the elemental stones. All of that could have been the plot of a perfectly fine action movie, but as I mentioned before that’s not what we have here.

In addition to the action you have a whole lot of ridiculous comedy as well. For example you have the almost unwatchably shrill performance of Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod – a loudmouthed radio DJ. You have the alien mercs who are the keystone cops of the movie – cannon fodder really. You have a whole scene where the megalomaniac Zorg chokes on a cherry. At no moment is there any real tension – it’s just a bunch of crazy action.

Indeed the movie is pretty much a complete mess. But it’s saved by the two leads. Bruce Willice as Korben plays things pretty much straight. He’s very much in Die Hard mode here – kicking ass and taking names. And Milla Jovovich does a great job as the fifth element. She’s kick ass and vulnerable and cool and funny. Together they save this silly mess of a movie from itself and make it pretty much worth watching.

I still would like to see the badass La Femme Nikita in space movie that I thought I was going to see the first time I watched this, but by now I can at least enjoy the movie for what it actually is. Inconsequential sci-fi fun.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 88 – Hairspray (2007)

Hairspray (2007) – May 27th, 2010

While the years don’t match up, I’m going to just hope that Pleasantville isn’t too far from Baltimore and some time soon after that movie ends, the changes in Baltimore from Hairspray spread out into the suburbs. Wouldn’t that be nice? They could use some more music and dancing in that town anyhow and now that roads actually lead to and from it, Tracy Turnblad and the rest of the Corny Collins show kids could tour through. What? I’ve displayed my crossover imaginings before and this won’t be the last time. I promise.

It’s hard not to come out of this movie feeling upbeat and hopeful, so long as you don’t poke too hard at its premise. Not to be too much of a downer, but while progress has certainly been made when it comes to racism and sizeism, all is not a song and a dance away from a happy ending. Nasty shit still happens because people are still like Velma Von Tussle, convinced of their moral superiority because of how they look. I watch this movie and I think “Yeah! Go Tracy! Get on that stage! Go Inez! Show them you ladies can dance and be awesome and rock out!” and then I think “Shit. People would still give them both crap for presuming to think not just that they’re as good as the other young women on the stage, but that they’re better. Fuck.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if things worked the way they do in the movie? If pointing out that You Can’t Stop the Beat really did prove to people that the tide of change is something to dive into, not build a wall against? I wish it worked like that. And I can’t say the movie is entirely dismissive of the difficulties inherent in its message. It’s just that it’s a positive vibe sort of movie. It wants you to be happy and optimistic. I’m not that optimistic a person, alas. But I’ll try. Because it’s a good movie, and it doesn’t deserve me spewing pessimism all over it. Not when it really does have a great message that I truly like.

Now, this is a remake, but I haven’t seen the original, so I’m not going to be reviewing it from that perspective. I haven’t seen the Broadway production either, so scratch that too. But I am thrilled to know just how much was carried over and how many nods to the original there are. Some cast members kept and moved into new roles (Jerry Stiller, for example) and the closing credits has a number performed by all three actresses who’ve played the lead, Tracy (Nikki Blonsky, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Ricki Lake). Those are great little things that let you know that the people making the movie were paying attention not just to their own production. One reason we watched this tonight is that tonight was the premier of the latest season of So You Think You Can Dance, and this movie was directed and choreographed by one of the judges, Adam Shankman. We hadn’t realized that and were thrilled (the other option was Showgirls, which another of the show’s choreographers is in).

Truth to tell, there are a lot of great things about the movie. Not just the message and the choreography (which I love). But I realize I haven’t talked about the message yet, so let’s do that. Tracy Turnblad, a teenager with a dream of being on a dance show on television, is also heavier than is acceptable for such things. But that doesn’t get her down. She just knows she’s going to make it somehow. With the help of her friend Penny (whose character arc I adore) and some of the African American students Tracy’s met in detention, she dances her way into the good graces of the host of the show, Corny Collins. Before I continue, this movie is full of bizarrely perfect casting. James Marsden as the slick Corny Collins? Who knew, right? But perfect. Amanda Bynes as Penny? Yeah, she’s perfect too. Allison Janey as her uptight churchgoing mother isn’t such a stretch, but I love Allison Janey in everything I’ve seen her in so I don’t care. Anyhow, Tracy gets on the show, which is fantastic, but she also earns the enmity of the show’s lead dancer, Amber, and her mother, Velma, neither of whom want this short fat pro-integration optimist to come crashing their party. So they try to sabotage her, of course. And one of the things they do is to cancel “Negro Day”, a once a month rhythm and blues day, leading to Tracy marching with the host of Negro Day (Motormouth Maybelle, played, again awesomely, by Queen Latifah) and a large group of people she’s met through her friends from detention and Maybelle. A confrontation with the police during the march leads to Tracy hiding out and then sneaking into the Corny Collins show’s climactic Miss Hairspray dance-off, during which the cast becomes integrated and Penny makes out with OMG an African American man! Maybelle’s daughter, Inez, wins Miss Hairspray and Tracy’s mother and father (played by John Travolta and Christopher Walken, respectively and perfectly – yes, perfectly) get on stage and dance too.

Everyone dances. Everyone’s dancing with someone of another size or another race and everyone’s singing about change and Tracy gets the boy she’s had eyes for the whole movie (the show’s male lead, Link, again perfectly played by Zac Efron, who I don’t think I’d ever thought I’d write those words about). Maybelle and Corny are up hosting together and the whole thing says that your size and shape and race shouldn’t keep you from doing and achieving what you want. But not only shouldn’t your differences stop you, they should be loved and appreciated. Not once in the movie is it put forth that Tracy would be a better dancer if she was tall and skinny. She’s amazing just the way she is and Link likes her as she is. Not once does the movie want you to think that the music would really be better if it was whiter. Just the opposite. The whole point of the movie is to embrace the unfamiliar and the different and let your life be richer for it. And it’s set in 1962. It’s 2010. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that?

May 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hairspray (2007 musical)

May 27, 2010

Hairspray (2007 musical)

“People who are different? Their time is coming!” So declares Tracy Turnblad- the heroine of today’s return to the exciting fantasy Baltimore of John Waters. Just like Crybaby this is a musical tale of misfits finding their place in the world. We don’t own the original Hairspray movie (although I can tell you we certainly will!) Instead today we review the 2007 movie of the Broadway musical based on the movie. Much from the original movie has changed (gone is the climactic set-piece about the bomb that has been planted in the hairdo of Tracy’s rival) but the core premise of the improbable meteoric rise to stardom of an overweight but infectiously upbeat girl remains. In the alternate Baltimore of John Waters you can’t keep a great girl like Tracy down.

This hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad – a Baltimore teenager at the start of the sixties who watches the Corny Collins dance program every day on local daytime television and does nothing else. Naturally she finds her way onto the program, falls in love with the lead dancer and heartthrob Link, and through a series of well meaning adventures brings about a confrontation on the program with the underhanded and racist producer Velma. Velma wants to keep the show pure and white. Tracy feels that it’s unfair not to have black people dancing in an integrated show. It all leads to chaos at the climactic live broadcast of the Miss Teenage Hairspray dance competition. And of course along the way there are a ton of great musical numbers and big dance scenes.

The biggest difference between this musical and the original movie is in the tone. In 1988 John Waters was still doing what he enjoys doing most- trying to get a rise out of people by filming outrageous things and passing them off as normal. In the original movie (as I remember it at least – this could change when we get to our dedicated review of it) the interracial couples and integration felt like it was put in the movie to shock you. In this movie it is seen as inevitable, like the rising of the tide. Has public perception of integration changed so much in the intervening twenty years? I’m not sure that it has. Certainly it doesn’t appear to to me, but I live in a fairly isolated bubble of extreme liberalism and always have. Maybe attitudes have changed.

I will say that when I first watched this movie I was extremely moved by the “I Know Where I’ve Been” number with its civil rights overtones. Queen Latifah’s performance never fails to make me tear up. But I couldn’t help feeling like this was too easy a thing to do now. Is there any controversy to integration and civil rights any more? I mean, we live in a United States with a black president now. Surely we already live in a colorblind society and there’s less power to this kind of scene because of it. But then again, just this past week Rand Paul, a Republican Senate candidate from Kentucky, has said some dumb things about civil rights, and there’s the whole hullabaloo in Arizona regarding immigrants there which is turning into a race issue as well. So perhaps from my ivory tower I can delude myself into believing that the race problem has been resolved, when clearly it has not. We live in the future, yes, but all is not yet as it should be. So this movie IS still relevant today.

Let’s talk casting. This movie has a brilliant group of performers embodying the people of Baltimore. Christopher Walken gets a chance to show off his dance movies and is also wonderfully cheesy as Tracy’s joke-store-operating father. (His patented oddly paced delivery works well with his character.) Queen Latifah, although her part is fairly small as Motormouth Maybelle, the host of “Negro Day” the once-a-month all colored dance segment on the Corny Collins show, provides a lot of the heart and (if you’ll forgive the pun) soul of the movie. Michelle Pfeiffer makes a fantastic nefarious evil-doer (as seen in Stardust as well.) James Marsden continues to surprise me. As Corny Collins here he gets to sing, dance and smarm (although I fear that he may be typecast as the clean-cut all-American guy.) Teen appeal is provided by High School Musical’s Zac Efron and Amanda Bynes. Of course Nikki Blonsky brings so much fun to the movie as the irrepressible Tracy that it’s infectious.

The one casting choice I was most concerned about when I first began to hear about the film adaptation was that of John Travolta as Tracy’s mother Edna. I mean, yes we all know that John can sing and dance, but he’s taking the role away from the drag queens who created it. In the original film it was of course John Waters’ favorite transvestite Divine in the role, and then the original Broadway stage cast had the legendary Harvey Fierstein take over. It seemed crude to have a big-name Hollywood star camping it up in the place of a dedicated transvestite. Still, I will admit that Travolta does a good job with the part, and seems to be having fun doing it. I don’t begrudge him the role… I would think anybody would enjoy having it. He even lampoons his own celebrity- aping one of his Pulp Fiction dance moves during the closing number.

I enjoy this movie for a number of reasons. It’s got a fantastic soundtrack (which lives on my iPod and is frequently listened to when I need a lift.) It’s got amazing big Broadway dance numbers (choreographed and directed as my Wife is no doubt pointing out in her review by So You Think You Can Dance’s Adam Shankman.) The casting is first rate and the joy of the movie is undeniable. And it has a nice social message which shouldn’t be relevant in our new enlightened age but sadly still is. Most of all it’s just fun to watch.

May 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment