Tuesday, December 29, 2009
20) Tremors (1990)
It’s a pretty stupid monster movie, but it knows it and it knows the genre its working with. With a wink and a nod, the movie makes fun of and pays homage to classic 50s monster flicks with its combination of Xenobiology + Rednecks.
19) Le Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)
This French comedy with barely any spoken dialog sneaks up on you with its subtle humor. The pacing is a little slow, but the comedy doesn’t hit you on the head. You have to think about the jokes after the fact to get them, and I really dig this movie for doing that, especially in contrast to the modern strategy of hitting people over the head with “quirky awkwardness!” (*cough cough* The Office). It was a random find on TCM, and I’m really glad I saw it.
18) So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)
Mike Myers in his comedic prime and mugging for the camera, a nostalgic early 90s alternative/pop soundtrack and a romantic comedy with a twist of Hitchcock-inspired suspense over the girl of his dreams who may or may not be a serial killer. There’s a lot to like here.
17) Johnny Dangerously (1984)
Okay, so its really cheesy, but its cheesy in that classic 80s comedy way. Organized crime, slapstick and Michael Keaton is the charismatic anchor that holds everything together. Not a complicated movie by any means, but I laughed my ass off, and that’s what counts.
16) Ed Wood (1994)
An often touching homage to pursuing dreams, the art of filmmaking, and perseverance in the face of not having any actual talent at making art. Combining great music, Tim Burton’s visual style that champions the bizarre and most importantly, the friendship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi’s characters make it a great movie.
15) Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
This movie just feels incomplete because of the lackluster ending, but most of the stuff leading up to it? Awesome. Jonathan Pryce just nails one of the most evil villains to pass through RMWC. This is a kids’ movie with teeth, and its lunging for your throat.
14) The Midnight Meat Train (2009)
While it’s a little far on my gore scale (and sounds like the title of a bad 70s porno), the story is a marvelously messed up urban fable about blurring the lines between obligation and obsession. And when the movie isn’t butchering people and hanging them on meat hooks, the cinematography is strikingly beautiful in its play of color and loneliness.
13) Maverick (1994)
A lighthearted adaptation of a TV series, its got incredibly charismatic lead actors, a great visual eye and a plot that weaves constant twists and backstabs into one hell of a ride with an outstanding payoff.
12) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
A calm, thoughtful, and above all, not forced message about hope and perseverance in the face of virtual earthly damnation, this movie ambles along like a pleasant conversation, though it does lose its steam after the big payoff.
11) Zatôichi monogatari (1962)
A moody, gritty crime drama set in feudal Japan with a blind badass protagonist and some great camera work. What’s not to like?
10) Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
My gateway into Miyazaki’s animated films, it combines steampunk and magitek into a visually breathtaking world and it just sucks you in with its charm and occasional creepiness that you don’t mind the preachiness just under the surface. Bonus points for an English dub of a-list actors bringing their A game.
9) Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)
Peter Jackson, you insane Kiwi, you. You’ve made a movie with so much gore and fake blood that it crosses the line of revulsion so far that it comes back hilarious.
8) Let The Right One In (2008)
Creepiest movie on this list. The stark landscape of Sweden, the camera shots, the superb acting and above all, the story and implications will haunt you for days. The pacing is deliberately slow in most places, but when it explodes, you’re completely floored. This is one beautifully messed up movie.
7) Dark City (1998)
While its overshadowed by The Matrix which came out a year later, it’s a cerebral dark science fiction noir that explores notions of identity, memory, self-determination and humanity. Not exactly flashy, but there’s a lot of depth to be found. AND its Roger Ebert approved.
6) Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Who’da thunk the direct sequel to Lugosi’s Dracula would be so damn funny? Witty banter, an awesome female character in Janet the secretary and a lot of crap manages to get under the radar in this movie. Its energetic, daring and a lot of fun.
5) Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
Possessing inspired set design unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, the entire movie feels like an Expressionistic fever dream. It’s a cinematic landmark and an experience to watch.
4) Die Hard (1988)
Yes it took me this long to see it. I’M SORRY! It takes pretty much every action movie cliché and brazenly wears them on its sleeves, but thanks to the cast and director, it completely works. One of the best straight up action movies ever made.
3) Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
An extraordinary sequel to the great Frankenstein, it surpasses its predecessor without invalidating it. Lighting, Camera Work, Acting, Makeup and Musical Score are all firing on all cylinders with barely any flaws. This is probably the Frankenstein movie for the ages.
2) The Italian Job (1969)
This movie kicks so much ass. Michael Caine’s unstoppable charisma, great dialog, fantastic camera work, Benny Hill, jaw dropping car chases, beautiful women and one hell of an ending all under the umbrella of a Swingin’ Sixties soundtrack from Quincy Jones. I’ll take two of everything, please.
1) The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
This. This. This. This. This. ADVENTURE! so bright you’ll have to wear shades. Hilarious, Glorious, Audacious and full of Awesome, Errol Flynn leads the best Robin Hood movie yet made and is one of the best bright-eyed, un-ironic, straightforwardly heroic tales I’ve ever seen. I had high expectations going into this movie, and they were all exceeded. I can’t praise it enough.
So that's the awesome stuff, and I'll see you in the New Year. The Krampus will show you out the door.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Soooo, in the interest of some little bit of variety, here’s the 10 Biggest Disappointments of Year, culled from things that I watched for the first time and for this project, which helps narrow things down. Keep in mind, this is about the biggest "disappointments" and not just the "worst" movies, so that includes stuff that was decent or well made and overhyped, or just didn't tickle my subjective fancy.
So here are the Bottom Ten Disappointments of RMWC's Inaugural Year.
11) Honorable Mention First Knight (1995)
Even though I’ve seen it before, it really is THAT BAD.
10) Son of Dracula (1943)
It’s a very lackluster Universal Horror film that tries, but not hard enough. There’s some great moments, but mostly, you want to pull an MST3K for it. Honestly, I feel kind of bad for picking on it.
9) Laid To Rest (2009)
Honestly, I had managed to forget I had even watched this movie, which is why its not closer to 1. It’s a stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid movie with not very good lighting and detestable characters and a laughably bad villain.
8) Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter (1990)
A dull and mostly disappointing sequel to a fantastic 80s fantasy movie. It lacks any sense of wonder, tosses in a bunch of useless or under-used characters and any potential it has is just squandered. It might not have been able to reach the quality of the first, but at least it could’ve been decent.
7) Invincible Iron Man (2007)
Not the Robert Downey Jr. film, the animated film. Its contrived, the animation isn’t very good in most places, the CGI stands out painfully from the 2-D art and the plot just happens for no real reason. But it does have Iron Man killing a dragon, which actually is pretty cool, but not enough to save it.
6) Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
Its terrible, but I knew that going in. Its terrible. I mean, really terrible. If you wore a monocle as you watched it, it would fall out of your eye and into your Earl Grey tea in the first moments of the opening credits as you stared in shock. However, this movie is hilariously bad, which at least counts for something.
5) Superman III (1983)
Didn’t know what to expect with this, ended up detesting it by the end. Its not funny, its not exciting and its generally offensively stupid. This is so-bad-its-horrible territory.
4) Superman II (theatrical cut) (1980)
I actually had hopes for this one. A lot of people like it. By the end my hopes had long been dashed and I sat in front of the TV with a mix of rage and depression. Super Saran Wrap? Super Amnesia Kiss?? Massive Plot Holes?? The only good news is that the Richard Donner Cut is infinitely superior to the theatrical.
3) Rachel Getting Married (2008)
Anne Hathaway’s incredibly strong performance aside, this movie is a long, bloated, poorly paced and self-important piece of Oscar-bait that wants you to be aware that it’s a DRAMA that is IMPORTANT! So have some more DRAMA! Then we’ll retire to the parlor for some scones and DRAMA! Plus its set at a wedding that is so absurdly multicultural that you know the planners were New England WASPs.
2) The Mist (2007)
A parade of clichés and two-dimensional characters that I’ve seen in plenty of other stories lots of times over didn’t help the altogether boring plot. The worst part is that it’s a 50s Monster Movie that takes itself WAY too seriously to take seriously. I was so not invested in this movie that I LAUGHED at the ending. LAUGHED because it was IRONIC and OBVIOUS.
1) Snatch. (2001)
I can feel the hatred already. The movie’s got some great visuals and a killer soundtrack, but everyone’s a two-dimensional cutout and it’s a major case of all flash and no substance. The major reason its number one is not because its terrible (its not), but because so many of my friends like and/or love this movie, and honestly, I’m not seeing what they saw. Its number 1 on the list of disappointments because I was actually looking forward to this movie when I sat down to watch it and the anticipated enjoyment DID NOT HAPPEN.
So give a round of sympathy applause for these valiant efforts.
Keyboard Cat, play 'em off the stage.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Something something terrorism but not really. Its 4th of July Weekend in DC and some disgruntled computer program leader guy decides to hold the entire country hostage by taking over all of the internets. Or something like that. Its…pretty shaky, but its an excuse to start killing off hackers that helped him achieve this. One manages to survive because of John McClane, and here we go again with the whole explosions and car chases and banter and the like.
John McClane: Bruce Willis once more as the New York detective who’s in the wrong place at the right time. His life still sucks. Now he’s divorced from his wife, his grown-up daughter doesn’t want to talk to him, and he feels like a man that the world is leaving behind. Then he gets called up to bring in a hacker for questioning, ends up saving said hacker’s life and gets embroiled in the efforts to stop a disgruntled former government computer systems designer from extorting many dollars cash. John proceeds to survive even more insanely lethal things, like launching a car at a helicopter and later indirectly managing to destroy an F-35 VTOL fighter jet with a truck (its…complicated).
Matt Farrell: Justin Long plays a pretentious, smug but easily pushed around hacker who gets in way over his head. He was duped into helping the bad guys out and just barely survived their attempt to cover their tracks thanks to John McClane. Matt’s important to the plot and he’s not unbearably annoying, but he’s no Samuel L. Jackson.
Freddie “Warlock” Kaludis: Kevin Smith plays genius hacker who lives in his mom’s basement surrounded by Star Wars memorabilia. Anyway, John & Matt go to him for some help/information.
Lucy Gennaro McClane: Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays John McClane’s all grown up and really beautiful daughter. She gets unwillingly dragged into things, but proves to have some of the McClane feistiness.
Mai Lihn: Maggie Q plays the Bad Guy’s lieutenant and hot girlfriend. She’s fairly interesting since she knows what she’s doing and also knows how to mix it up in a melee.
Thomas Gabriel: Timothy Olyphant plays our Villain, not the giant beasties from Lord of the Rings. He glowers and he schemes and does all sorts of bad guy things, but he just doesn’t have the same it that Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons had in 1 and 3.
Rand: Cyril Raffaelli, an actual Parkour traceur (look it up) and stunt guy is this film’s badass. He’s one of Gabriel’s goons, true, but more than that, he’s an awesome goon. Doesn’t talk much, behaves in a very professional mercenary way and survives several encounters with John McClane. Let me repeat: He. Survives. Several. Encounters. With. John. McClane.
Directed by Len Wiseman (who was one of the creators of the Underworld movies and happens to be married to Kate Beckinsale) definitely brings a lot of big, expensive action set pieces to this film, which at this point, is all that’s really needed. Pacing is fine if a little draggy in the middle. Special effects don’t get in the way of things either.
Probably my favorite part is not an action scene at all but the public announcement that the bad guys broadcast. Instead of some guy in a mask or blurred face & voice, you get a spliced together speech from various U.S. presidents. It is both fairly creepy and very cool.
Story by Mark Bomback and David Marconi with additional credit given to an article by John Carlin called “A Farewell to Arms” and “certain original characters” credit to Roderick Thorp. I’ll be blunt and say that this is not an intelligent movie. How most of the computer stuff occurs would probably shatter the brain of an actual computer science person. Still, on the character development front, the script succeeds in bringing some new stuff to the world of John McClane so at least the plot and characters feel somewhat fresh, even if it seems like the best Die Hard movies are the odd numbered ones.
Sadly, Michael Kamen died in 2003, so he couldn’t score the music for this movie. That task went to Marco Beltrami, though a bunch of Kamen’s themes from the previous movies were integrated, which is a nice touch. No Christmas music in this one, but “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival gets some major play throughout the movie. As someone who enjoys CCR quite a bit, I approve of this.
Look, its not a game changer or anything particularly innovative, BUT Live Free Or Die Hard is surprisingly fun for a sequel made a decade after the previous one. So its quite a relief that the franchise that can be called Live Free Or Die Harder With A Vengeance comprises four solid action movies. Which leads to a very Merry Christmas indeed.
Now, for your Holiday Pleasure, a recap of all four movies in musical form. Profanity and spoilers abound
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Its summer in New York City, and John McClane is a New York cop once again. Except he’s suspended and borderline alcoholic and estranged from his wife. Then some stuff blows up in the city and the Police get a call from the mastermind, demanding John McClane wear a very offensive sign in Harlem or else more explosions. John survives in part because of the intervention of a bystander, who then gets dragged along because the terrorist is pissed he interfered. Like always, a lot of money is involved, John’s trying to figure out who exactly wants it, and why. And he’s got a really bad hangover.
John McClane: Bruce Willis (as always). It really sucks to be John in this one. He’s on the outs with his wife, has his superiors at the station constantly pissed at him, and he’s been drinking in the morning on a day. Then it turns out the bad guy knows who he is and is really pissed at him. So John’s being played as the bad guy’s pawn as he races around trying to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. It’s a really bad day to be John McClane, however, he tends to be extremely badass on his bad days.
Zeus Carver: Samuel L. Jackson plays an engineer from Harlem who’s a loving family man, reasonable guy and doesn’t trust whitey. He pulls a Good Samaritan when he helps John not get killed in Harlem for being forced by the bad guy to wear a sign that, well, let’s just say it would get you killed in Harlem. They build up a typical buddy cop movie relationship, where they don’t like each other at all until near the end and Zeus plays the race card on John a lot with hilarious results.
Inspector Walter Cobb, Joe Lambert, Connie Kowalski and Ricky Walsh: Okay, these are the NY Cops involved in the case. Respectively, they are Larry Bryggman, Graham Greene (from Maverick), Colleen Camp (from Clue), and Anthony Peck. They’re all competent cops who are basically the B-team trying to keep things under control while John & Zeus do their thing, and they even get a moment to shine near the climax.
Charlie Weiss: Kevin Chamberlin plays the unlikely badass of the film. He’s a chubby bomb unit guy called in to help find and defuse the explosives planted in the city. While he starts off as a minor character, when they find one of the bombs in a school and evacuate it, he’s right there trying to shut the thing off. No such luck and he gets ready to get out, but then the cops find some kids who decided to hide out inside and he mans the fuck up and stays at it. Now, you expect badass things from Bruce Willis & Sam Jackson, but from a lowly secondary character to get that kind of moment, truly badass.
Simon Peter Gruber: Jeremy Irons is quite awesome as the German-accented, blonde mastermind of the attacks. He’s also a class A asshole, calling the police up and having John & Zeus jump through hoops trying to figure out his obfuscating (look it up) riddles that follow the “Simon says” format. Turns out he’s Hans Gruber’s brother, and at first you think that’s why he wants McClane dead, but it turns out that’s just a very welcome bonus objective to his main ambition, which involves stealing a LOT of money with his multi-ethnic-but-mostly-white army of mercenaries. He’s also got a hot girlfriend/lieutenant who’s a mute sociopath.
From the very first shots framing New York City, you can tell John McTiernan’s visual style is just so damn effective. Then the movie wastes no time in getting into the thick of things as we get lots and lots of explosions and cutting it close to the wire. The pacing is frantic, but its also fairly focused. In a lot of ways, it feels a lot more like Die Hard than Die Harder did.
Writing credits go to Jonathan Hensleigh (who also happened to direct the 2004 Punisher movie) and to Roderick Thorp for “certain original characters” on IMDB. While its not exactly the character driven piece that Die Hard was, the interactions between John & Zeus are entertaining, Simon’s a great villain and its nice to see the B team of the other cops behaving as competent individuals. Still, characterization here is completely secondary to plot and explosions. The movie seems to know it can’t top Die Hard, so it just lays on the wildly entertaining action scenes that stretch the bounds of credibility and survivability. Which isn’t really so bad, because its done well here.
Michael Kamen back once again for the score, and once again it’s a very solid piece.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
John McClane is in Dulles Airport in D.C. for the holidays and waiting for his wife’s plane to land. Then some mercenary dudes take over an old Church near the airport, hack into the systems and demand the safe landing and release of the dictator of some Banana Republic who’s being brought to the U.S. to stand trial for drug trafficking (its about money, ultimately). Its up to John McClane to kicks some ass and call the local airport security guys all sorts of names before a bunch of planes circling the airport run out of fuel.
John McClane: Bruce Willis again, and this time he’s got shoes on. And a parka. And isn’t alone. Doesn’t help that much, since nobody in the airport is willing to believe that a terrorist (well, mercenary) attack is about to take place.
Holly McClane: Bonnie Bedelia is still McClane’s spitfire of a wife, only now she’s stuck on a plane that is circling the airport and running low on fuel. Still not a damsel in distress, she keeps her cool and gets some fun moments.
Richard Thornburg: William Atherton is back as the colossal douche reporter, only now he’s on the same plane as Holly, and he makes a point of letting everyone know that he has a restraining order against her and that it is unlawful for him to be sitting that close to him. Hilarity ensues.
General Ramon Esperanza: Franco Nero is the living Macguffin that the bad guys want. He’s a notorious drug lord, but he’s also an ardent foe of Communism in South America, and the mercs want to make sure he can still do that. Not much to the character himself, he’s pretty much your standard Fidel Castro-looking South American Dictator.
Colonel Stuart: William Sadler (who was great in Shawshank) is our Villain, and while he gets introduced in a hotel practicing martial arts in the nude (which is…weird), it turns out he’s a former U.S. Military guy with a decorated record and is apparently a hero. He’s also gone rogue with a bunch of military guys that include John Leguizamo and Robert “T-1000” Patrick. Ostensibly what he does is to support a dictator who’s stance is anti-Communism, but ultimately, its about the metric assloads of money he’d be getting from the guy in reward. He’s not a bad villain, really, but he’s kind of flat when compared to the magnificent bastard that is Hans Gruber.
Captain Carmine Lorenzo: Dennis Franz (yeah, that one) is the head of security at the airport and a major obstacle in John McClane getting any real saving the day done.
Major Grant: John Amos is the special forces commander sent by the government to deal with a rogue agent gone wrong. A big scary dude, he develops something of a grudging respect for McClane, but he and Stuart have some history together which plays a part.
Samantha “Sam” Coleman: the “good” reporter. She’s at the airport and trying to get a story, but gets the brush off from just about everybody.
And we get a small but very important cameo from Sgt. Al.
Renny Harlin, a Finnish director whose credits include Cliffhanger, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, and Cutthroat Island, goes big on the action sequences, which are frequent and continuously ramp up the absurdity until you’ve got the final explosion at the end which…well, doesn’t seem like the circumstances of that should be physically possible. Snow and nighttime dominate the visuals, which is appropriate. Still, there’s an energy missing that was present in McTiernan’s film.
Based on the novel "58 Minutes" by Walter Wager and adapted into a John McClane movie by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, the script and characters all work well. John’s still the lovable lug that he is and the interaction between Holly and Thornburg is great, but…I don’t know. Its still a lot of fun, but some of the plot elements feel really contrived, like the Glock 7 (which doesn’t actually exist) being a ceramic gun and that’s how it gets past security. I mean, even if the gun exterior would be ceramic, there would have to be metal bits like springs and whatnot within.
Michael Kamen brings another great soundtrack, but I didn’t notice all the subtle little cues that made Die Hard awesome musically. And of course we get some of that good ol’ Christmas music.
You know, its not as good. BUT, its not bad and is still a lot of fun. That about sums up my thoughts on Die Harder.
Monday, December 21, 2009
I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen any of the Die Hard movies. Well, since its Christmas time, I think now’s as good a time as any to change that. I think its time for an X-MAS X-PLOSION X-TRAVAGANZA! So strap yourselves in, ladies and gents as we kick off Christmas week with a boom with John McTiernan’s 1988 movie about a Christmas party gone wrong.
We have a New York City detective landing in L.A. to meet up with his somewhat estranged wife (who moved out west for work and took the kids) for Christmas. After getting picked up in a limo and driven to the unfinished skyscraper where her company’s Christmas Party is being held, there is a brief reunion that shows their relationship is in trouble, when suddenly…Terrorists! Well, not really terrorists, since they’re only interested in the millions that are being held in the vault downstairs, which makes them super thieves. Anyway, our everyman cop ends up the only one loose in the building who’s either not a crook or a captive, so its up to him thwart their evil plans. With bullets. And Explosions. And taunts. And Christmas Spirit.
John McClane: Bruce Willis in the role that shifted him away from comedies and cemented him as an action star. McClane’s a New York cop on a trip to L.A. to see his wife. The relationship’s a little strained, but the two do seem to love each other. John’s an everyman who’s not a fan of heights. Its mostly luck that keeps him from being caught when the bad guys show up, but its his sheer tenacity and resourcefulness that keeps him alive (well, and a lot of luck) through the movie. John’s a great character, and while he manages to survive stuff that in a real world would kill him, at least he does get the shit kicked out of him. It’s a tough call, but he’s the biggest badass of the film, largely because he does everything barefoot.
Holly Gennaro McClane: Bonnie Bedelia is the wife of John, and a very strong, stubborn woman and bucks the whole “damsel in distress” thing. When the bad guys take over, she keeps her cool and rises to a position of leadership within the hostages.
Argyle: De’voreaux White is the limo driver who picks up John at the airport and brings him to the skyscraper. A decent guy, he offers to find John a hotel if things don’t go well with the wife and consequently spends most of the movie in the parking lot in the basement, completely oblivious to everything going on above him.
Richard Thornburg: William Atherton (Walter Peck from Ghostbusters, only without a beard this time) is a muckraking television reporter, not a major character, but they guy is fantastic at playing a douchebag.
Harry Ellis: Speaking of douchebags Hart Bochner plays Holly’s sleazy co-worker. Basically he’s all of the stereotypes of a sleazy 80’s businessman, he’s a fast talking, insincere, sycophantic and (heavily implied) coke snorter.
Sgt. Al Powell: Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow himself) plays an L.A. cop who happens to be close enough to the skyscraper to investigate the possible disturbance. Long story short, he becomes John’s only real ally on the outside and they feed information to each other. Al is awesome.
Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi: James Shigeta is Holly’s boss. He doesn’t last long.
FBI Special Agents Johnson and Johnson: Robert Davi (Big J) and Grand L. Bush (Little J) show up when the threat of the bad guys gets real, but they’re more interested in gung-ho explosions and flying choppers and firing machine guns and other manly things than actually trying to help all the hostages survive.
Hans Gruber: Alan Rickman is one hell of a Villain in this movie. Rocking a beard and German accent, he’s a mastermind of a villain, ruthless, but civilized. Willing to sacrifice his men in the line of duty, but not to throw them away for simply displeasing him. He’s a perfect foil for John’s blue collar schlub and runner up for badass of the film. He’s evil. Classy evil.
Karl: Alexander Godunov is Hans’ number two guy. A big, mean, blonde he starts behaving…unprofessionally when the first bad guy John kills happens to be Karl’s brother.
John McTiernan, as we’ve established before, is a very, very solid director. Pacing is wire tight, tension is palpable and the action sequences are logical explosions of that tension. Keeping all of that together is a rock solid visual direction that really knows how to frame a scene. I now understand why this movie is held up as one of the gold standards of action movies.
Based on a novel by Roderick Thorp (“Nothing Lasts Forever”) and screenplay by Jeb Stuart (probably no relation to the Confederate General) and Steven E. de Souza, the characters, dialog and plot are all skipping merrily along at rocket fast speeds. True, most of the movie is a collection of action movie tropes, but it plays all of them up with complete conviction, and the character development is so well done that you’re actually delighted when the last bad guy is shot by a character who its been revealed earlier in an offhand way hasn’t been able to fire a gun in a long time thanks to psychological issues. Incredibly cliché in retrospect, but my God, it actually works here.
Michael Kamen’s score is incredible for this movie, especially in how subtle and restrained it often is. Probably the most memorable bit is all of the quiet variations on “Ode to Joy” that Kamen quietly inserts as Hans Gruber’s theme, eventually soaring to the full fanfare as the vault doors finally open up and he gains access to all that money. It. Is. Glorious. There are also several appropriately Christmas-y songs, like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “Winter Wonderland” and “Christmas In Hollis” by Run-D.M.C. (it was the late 80’s and white folks were starting to take notice of rap).
I may have been late to the Die Hard party, but damn am I glad I finally showed up. Not much to say other than it was everything I was led to expect, and more.
Trailer music doesn't get any more 80's than this.
Friday, December 18, 2009
This cut of the film was essentially spliced together from footage that Donner filmed, along with some screen test stuff and some good ol’ editing tricks to give at least a simulacrum of what Donner intended the film to be. And its purportedly been floating around for a while now, but in 2006, Warner Bros. released it on DVD, so that the world could decide what it liked better.
I am really happy that my faith in Richard Donner has not gone unrewarded. It IS a more entertaining movie. Gone are most of the complaints and grievances I had with the Richard Lester version. Gone is the Super Saran Wrap…thing. Gone is the sudden and unexplained return of Superman’s Powers. Gone is that Goddamned awful Super Amnesia Kiss. Gone are most of those little sigh inducing moments that crop up through the entire movie. Gone is the Eiffel Tower scene, but it didn’t really add anything to film anyway and the explanation for how a missile blows up the Phantom Zone prison where Zod & Co. are is tied directly to the first movie. Gone are the scenes of Non, the big bruiser getting better at heat vision and--wait, no, I actually miss that part from the Lester cut.
What is “new” is more Lex Luthor stuff. The two diner scenes are both still in, and I’m still not a fan of those. Marlon Brando is Jor-El, and the whole relationship with Superman and him is deepened and rather poignant by the end. Even better, Lois is made sharp as a whip in her early suspicions that Clark=Superman, and some of the lengths she takes to get him to admit that are quite hilarious.
Pacing on this film also feels really tight, and the movie seems to go by a lot faster than the Lester cut.
Well, being what it is, it isn’t exactly a complete film. Can’t go back and re-shoot stuff generally, and all that. There are bits here and there that don’t really make sense, like the diner scene at the end still being retained, and there are some leaps of logic here and there (though less than the Lester cut takes).
The Richard Donner Cut is a flawed movie in that its more or less been Frankensteined together into its current shape. However, that shape can walk and talk, and is so, so, so much superior to the theatrical cut. Despite having the “Richard Donner” label attached, a large part of the credit also has to go to Michael Thau, the editor. The movie is also really frustrating, because it makes me wish I lived in a universe where Donner wasn’t booted off Superman II and we actually had a fun, polished, completed and most importantly, good version of this film.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Sorry, that feudal analogy kind of ran away from me. Mom and Dad Save the World was made in 1992 and was a science fiction comedy that nobody really remembers (except me and three other people, since I saw it as a kid on VHS).
So there's this married couple, and the spark has more or less gone out of their relationship. They’re on their way to a vacation away from the kids when their station wagon gets caught in a beam, carried through space and arrives on Spengo, the smallest planet in the galaxy, and populated entirely by idiots. The emperor of Spengo, wants to blow up the Earth because its bigger than Spengo and he falls in love with the wife. It falls to the husband to escape death’s grasp, team up with a resistance movement in favor of restoring the old king, and save his marriage. Hilarity occasionally ensues.
Emperor Tod Spengo: Jon Lovitz hams things up as the Villain of the movie, a dumpy, egotistic, foppish idiot who took over the planet and renamed it after himself. Tod’s a big idiot, but he’s also got an army at his command and a giant laser canon, so he’s somewhat of a threat. He’s fairly funny with the material he’s given. The scene where he’s deciding between muttonchops or goatee is one of the better ones.
Marge Nelson: Teri Garr plays the housewife who’s trying to get her husband out and about more than he’d like. As the object of Tod’s affections, she is revolted by the idea, but finds herself a glorified prisoner in his palace.
Dick Nelson: Jeffrey Jones is plays a main character for a change and does all right as the henpecked grumpy husband who’s got back problems. On Spengo, he acquires the nickname “Earth Dick.” I’ll let you write your own subtext.
General Afir: Thalmus Rasula is Tod’s general and right hand man, and not nearly as dumb.
King Raff: Eric Idle seems to be slumming it here as the deposed king that Dick meets in prison. His method of concealing secret information is by putting down the front of his pants. Despite the limited screen time, he’s the film’s comedic badass.
Sibor: Wallace Shawn is a scientist working for Tod that decides to help out Dick because he too has lost someone that he loves.
Sirk: Dwier Brown is Raff’s son and leads the resistance movement in the wilderness.
Semage: Kathy Ireland is Sirk’s sister, and spends the entire movie in a fan service costume. This is not a bad thing.
The direction by Greg Beeman is competent but nothing extraordinary. The movie’s nice and colorful though, and the alien costumes for the fish and bulldog people aren’t too bad. The lubb-lubbs are probably the best done creature effects in the film. Hopping friendly faced mushrooms that live in sewers and raise their caps to reveal lots and lots of nasty, sharp teeth.
Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (who wrote the Bill & Ted movies) handled the script for this and while the premise is fine, the delivery is…nothing special. Its supposedly a planet of the dumbest people in the galaxy, but they’re all only marginally dumber than the Nelsons. Its actually pretty disappointing, especially considering that Bill & Ted were legitimate idiots in their movies.
However, there are some bright patches of good comedy. Tod Spengo, Raff and Sirk are all suitably idiotic (Sirk is just so earnest too). The best gag in the movie has to do with a little weapon called the Light Grenade. The way it works is that you pull the pin, put it down on the ground and whoever picks it up next is violently turned to smoke. This is encouraged by a label on the grenade that says “Pick me up.” A battalion of Tod’s men come across the abandoned rebel camp, find the Light Grenade, and proceed to wipe out their own unit one by one, until the last thing you see of the squad is their commander radioing for backup. Easily the funniest thing in the movie.
Original score by the always solid Jerry Goldsmith. Its solid, but nothing you’ll be humming after the movie’s over.
Mom and Dad Save the World is not a great movie. Its not a classic, or a revelation, or even all that good to be honest. Considering the cast involved, it really should be funnier than the Buck Rogers rip off that it is. There are a few good moments, one fantastic moment (the aforementioned light grenade) and then a sea of blandness that is neither offensive to the intelligence or particularly rewarding of repeat viewings. Not really recommended unless you’re on a nostalgia kick.
And now, thanks to he miracle of Youtube, you can enjoy the best part of the movie without having to sit through the rest of it!
What a wondrous age we live in!
Monday, December 14, 2009
A slightly different take on the whole origin of Iron Man, this one starts with Tony Stark funding a big dig in China to raise up an ancient city that was the capital of an emperor known only as the Mandarin. Now, the Mandarin was a bad dude back in the day and there’s a group of locals who aren’t too pleased with Stark’s efforts, who seems to be doing this project mostly for shits & giggles. This underground movement likes to voice their displeasure by blowing valuable equipment and people up with regularity, and eventually they critically injure Stark when they grab him on his arrival to China. He wakes up in an iron lung that’s keeping him alive, this gets upgraded to a portable version and the leader of the rebels tells Stark to find a way to fix the problem of raising the city above ground or else James Rhodes and Stark will die. He emphasizes this by shooting the random old mystic guy who helped heal Stark in the first place. Stark & Rhodes escape with the help of a Mk. I suit of Iron Man armor and Li Mei, one of the rebels who took a liking to him.
Stark finds himself a fugitive because somebody in the company was fudging paperwork and making it look like Tony was making illegal arms deals and he’s also got to try and stop four demonic elementals from gathering the Mandarin’s ten rings and reviving the bastard.
Tony Stark/Iron Man: Marc Worden voices our hero in this version. Here, Stark’s much less sympathetic than the live action version pre-accident. He’s not just negligent about his responsibilities, he’s also a callous bastard who doesn’t really give a damn about his employees being killed in regular raids on the dig site, and he’s too busy fooling around in hot tubs with hot women to even care. True, he eventually mans up to become a hero, but he never really makes amends for his previous douchbaggery, just kind of sweeps it under the rug quietly.
James “Rhodey” Rhodes: Rodney Saulsberry voices Stark’s stalwart buddy and the guy on-site supervising the dig. He’s much more likable than Tony throughout the film, frequently calling Tony out on his bullshit. He doesn’t get a set of armor in this film either. He’s way more likable than Stark in this and a much more sympathetic, grounded character.
Virginia “Pepper” Potts: Elisa Gabrielli voices Stark’s assistant, giving her an oddly British clip to her accent. Pepper’s fine in this, actually, being sassier and a little more sarcastic in her sparring matches with her boss, though when the chips are down she gets things done. Doesn’t hurt that the design of the character gives her a “hot librarian” look with the pinned up hair and glasses. My pick for badass of the movie.
Howard Stark: John McCook voices Tony’s dad, a man who’s really being leaned on by the board of directors to kind of clamp down on Tony and shut him out of the business. This is somehow seen as a bad thing, though I’m not really sure, since yeah, Tony’s being really wild with his spending, like the whole dig in China that I’m still not sure why he was funding. So…yeah.
Li Mei: Gwendoline Yeo voices one of the ranking members of the Jade Dragon group that is really unhappy about the raising of that city. She takes a liking to Stark and doesn’t want him to die when they capture him, but she’s marked by an ancient destiny that ties her inextricably to the Mandarin.
Wong Chu: James Sie voices the leader of the Jade Dragons, who are arguably a group of good guys who are trying to stop the catastrophe that raising a city would bring. I say arguably, since he’s also a really big asshole who murders people left and right, conducts terrorist raids and so on. Yeah. These are the guys trying to prevent a disaster. Sure...
The Mandarin: Fred Tatasciore (hey look, its Saren from Mass Effect) voices our Ancient Evil that Stark desperately tries to stop from coming back. Mandarin’s barely in the movie, only getting resurrected at the end for a rather strange fight scene, but his presence is found throughout the movie, particularly in his four Elemental henchmen that are going around the world looking for his rings. The Elementals are okay, I suppose, but they’re obviously just a bunch of minibosses for Stark to pound on, Megaman style before he fights Dr. Wily-- I mean, Mandarin. Also, they’re based on the 4 Western Elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) and not on the 5 Chinese Elements (Water, Earth, Fire, Wood, Metal) which, well, that’s a clear case of Did Not Do The Research.
Directed by Patrick Archibald, Jay Oliva and Frank Paur, the animation quality is strikingly uneven. CGI is used heavily for things like the 4 Elementals and for the Iron Man Armor itself, but it never quite meshes with the traditional 2D art of the rest of the characters. There’s a slight disconnect, and a bit of the uncanny valley in the CGI movements as well. The 2D art has moments of goodness and then moments of incredible stiffness and “lack of expressiveness.” Like I said, uneven.
This isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have great moments. Some of the fight scenes are handled really well and the Iron Man CGI does look pretty good overall. The fight with the Earth Elemental in a volcano was pretty inventive visually, and then the whole street fight in the raised city where Shellhead’s fighting off an army of Terra Cotta soldiers magically animated by the Mandarin’s power is actually pretty awesome, made more so by the fact that the only suit he’s got available to him at that moment is his cobbled together Mk. I. And then he has to fight a dragon. The final fight with the Mandarin is quite a bit stranger and less interesting, quite honestly.
All right, Stan Lee and Larry Lieber get credit for creating ol’ Shellhead (for the record, Buckethead is not an accepted nickname for Iron Man, it is both the stage name of an esoteric guitar virtuoso and the nickname for another Marvel Superhero named Nova) and Avi Arad, Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle worked on the story and script of the movie. This too is uneven, because there are lots of plotholes (like why the Hell does Stark care about raising this city above ground???) but it also throws some interesting nods and ideas into the mix. SHIELD makes a very clear presence in the movie, which is a nice continuity touch, and I rather like the idea of Stark having to go into the final battle with a completely outclassed suit that gives the Mk. I time to shine. But the overall movie feels unpolished, like they’re really just going through the motions. There’s a third act twist that, while it makes sense, also feels tacked on just to have a twist, and the ending itself is just pretty weak.
Original music by Guy Michelmore. Its fine, does the job nicely, but I can’t really remember anything from it.
Yeah….The Invincible Iron Man isn’t a very good movie. While it does bring a few interesting things to the table, it doesn’t have the panache of the superior live action film. Ultimately its an inoffensive if slightly underwhelming effort. I can’t really recommend it, unless you’re really jonesing for an Iron Man fix. Its not a complete waste of time though: it has Iron Man killing the hell out of an actual dragon. That’s one thing its got over the live action film.
Friday, December 11, 2009
A smalltime crook is released from prison, though he has no intention of seeking legitimate business. A friend of his got bumped off by the Italian Mafia (which, at the urging of two large men with baseball bats, I understand is a myth) during the opening credits for planning a heist in Torino/Turin. The friend, however, anticipated this turn of events and left a pretty elaborate film reel behind for our anti-hero that details the scheme in depth. Our guy then proposes the heist to one of the biggest crime lords in England, who eventually agrees to support him, and then he assembles a team to plan and carry out the heist, which involves mucking up the computer system regulating the traffic lights of the city so that they can cause a traffic jam to cover their caper.
Charlie Croker: Michael Cain is a badass in this. From the minute he steps out of prison, he’s already planning on getting back into theft, retrieving money and a car he’s had stashed before his arrest and thoughtfully assembling his team and practicing in a…, well, the word I would use is, blithely manner. I mean, the guy’s got chutzpah but also knows exactly what he wants, like when his lady friend presents him with a room full of women dressed in exciting underwear and asks what he wants. The (correct) answer is “All of them.” He’s resourceful, a snappy dresser and completely committed to snatching the money from under the noses of the Mafia (which doesn’t exist), especially after they try to…dissuade him from going to Turin.
Mr. Bridger: Noel Coward, a major figure in British entertainment during the first half of the 20th century, plays, in his last film role, the classy, patriotic, thoroughly behind bars but still keeping track of his criminal empire Mr. Bridger, a very proper English crime lord. He gets some great one-liners and some moments of verbal badassery.
Professor Simon Peach: Benny Hill (yes, That one) plays an eccentric computer genius/programmer who, to use polite speech, likes his ladies big (to use blunter, cruder speech, a chubby chaser). He’s actually a minor character, though essential to the heist, and he gets a few moments to shine.
“Camp” Freddie: Tony Beckley plays a go-between for Mr. Bridger. Not exactly a buddy of Charlie’s (having been sent with some goons to give him a beating) he shows up a lot and reports on the progress of the training directly to Bridger. He also likes dressing fancy and frilly, which is probably where the “Camp” in his name came from.
Lorna: Margaret Blye is Charlie’s true love interest. She’s there to pick him up from prison, and does so in a boosted car from the Pakistani Embassy. Charlie eventually urges her away from Turin to protect her from the Mafia (which doesn’t exist) because he finally shows his true feelings for her and wants to keep her safe before the heist gets underway. What a guy, that Charlie.
Eye candy. Rather good eye candy from director Peter Collinson that captures a great Swingin’ Sixties feel. The locations are great, the colors are great, the car chase scene that takes up the entire end of the movie is fantastic. In it, three Cooper Minis drive through, over and under Turin, evading police cars and generally doing glorious things.
WritingThe script by Troy Kennedy-Martin (who also scripted Kelly’s Heroes and, oh yes, Red Heat) is a fantastically straightforward lighthearted heist movie. Dialog is snappy (and oh so British in a good way) and the storytelling is so bloody efficient that it made me cry tears of joy. A heist movie where every scene, every moment was centered around the heist, either planning it, preparing for it or carrying it out. The pacing of the film can best be labeled as svelte. And that ending. My God, that ending is fantastic.
The soundtrack is just awesome. And why not? Its written by Quincy Jones. Watch this, and “Self Preservation Society” will be stuck in your head for days.
Going into it, I wasn’t all that sure what to expect. The result was “blow your mind out” awesomeness. So awesome I wanted to watch The Italian Job again after it ended. If that’s not a sign of thorough enjoyment, I don’t know what is.
And, uh, there's this thing which I found when looking for the trailer. Audio's not very good, but for sheer novelty, its worth a look.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Though the Pevensie kids have only been gone from Narnia for about one Earth year, two thousand or so Narnia years have passed, and the neighborhood’s changed. A group of humans descended from pirates who’ve got a bit of a Spanish flair have somehow managed to wander into Narnia and conquered a huge chunk of it. Calling themselves the Telmarines, they’re very much interested in internecine political maneuvering, backstabbing and making sure the local Narnians are good and dead. The rightful heir of the Telmarines, Caspian, is forced to flee for his life when his wicked uncle’s not particularly wicked wife gives birth to a son, meaning Caspian’s got no protection at court. His old tutor gives him some equipment, including an ancient horn that is supposed to summon the heroes of yore. As the prince flees, he gets injured, blows the horn and gets rescued by some Narnians.
The horn blast eventually catches up with the Pevensie kids in a London Underground station and sucks them back to Narnia, where they find that things have changed a lot and are trying to adjust to/do something about the new status quo. Eventually meeting up with Caspian’s growing rebellion, the Pevensies are swept up in not just a Telmarine dynastic dispute, but also a battle against the extinction of the mythological Narnians themselves.
Peter Pevensie: William Mosely is back as the eldest Pevensie, and you know, that stuff I said about him being kind of a jerk in the last movie? Peter’s gotten worse. Now’s he’s picking fights in the London Underground with little provocation. When they get back to Narnia, he gets even worse. First, and this isn’t that bad, he immediately resumes his title and attitude as “High King Peter” and automatically demands that every Narnian he meets acknowledges this, despite the several hundred years having passed and a new generation of Narnians going “So you’re the High King? Prove it.” And prove it he does, by pigheadedly leading his army into an ambush and a costly defeat, then displaying his rather lacking swordsmanship in a duel to the death, and then leading his army into another battle that is a lot like the one from the first movie: a sure defeat without intervention from a more capable ally. In this movie, Peter’s a really unlikable dick.
Susan Pevensie: Anna Popplewell is back as the smart Pevensie, and this time around, she’s starting to discover boys. A Telmarine boy, to be specific. She’s fine as a character and gets some fun development as the whole awkward young crushes thing happens.
Lucy Pevensie: Georgie Henley is back as the cute Pevensie. She’s the one keeping the faith for Aslan’s return in this movie, though there are moments where it seems like the character is less “keeping the faith” and more “traveling to Cloudkookooland.”
Edmund Pevensie: Skandar “Future Viking” Keynes returns as Edmund, and Edmund is awesome in this film. The events of the last movie have sorted him out and here, he’s shown as a better swordsman than Peter, a skilled diplomat, and well prepared for any eventuality (which usually means pulling Peter’s fat out of the fire). In this movie, Edmund is the competent one, and that makes him the runner-up of badass.
Prince Caspian: Ben Barnes is the Telmarine Prince on the run, and despite having a fairly weak Spanish accent, does a pretty good job of things. His arc is all about finding the Narnians, coming to grips with them and eventually coexisting with them as he tries to take his rightful throne. He’s definitely the prime mover of the movie, and you know, he’s likable. He’s also more than willing to call Peter out on his bullshit.
King Miraz: Sergio Castellitto is a great villain as the duplicitous and weasely Miraz. See, he can’t really make a move on the throne without an heir. Basically, Caspian’s got the poison, but then the King has the remedy when his wife gives birth to a son. Complicated and amoral, Miraz uses Caspian’s disappearance as a pretext for going to war against the remaining Narnians. Miraz also has a fantastically treacherous support staff of nobles and generals that are constantly giving each other meaningful glances behind his back as he prepares to make his final move for power. Its obvious that they hate their boss, and they’ve got some real personality.
Now, a brief aside on the Telmarines themselves. I really liked them. They were great mooks that combined a Roman Imperial and Spanish Conquistador look and really just seemed like regular guys in snappy uniforms. They’re also pretty industrious, like the Romans, and are capable of not only building an impressive wooden bridge in a hurry, but also developing rapid fire trebuchets. As far as mooks go, its easy to sympathize with them, and almost admire them too, if not for the whole “stamp out mysticism/mythology with the monochrome boot of industry” thing.
Trumpkin & Nikabrik: Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis respectively play two dwarves buddies that get separated by the events of the beginning. Trumpkin gets rescued from some Telmarines by the Pevensies and becomes their deadpan, begrudging guide with some great lines. Nikabrik meets up with Prince Caspian and really resents the Telmarine (actually, he’s really just resentful of everything)
Aslan: Liam Neeson is back as the voice of the allegorical Christ Figure, but isn’t in it much.
The White Witch: Tilda Swinton returns for a very brief, but very creepy scene where Caspian is tempted to turn to her power to defeat his enemies.
Reepicheep: And now, the badass-est for last. Edgy, occasionally dress wearing comedian Eddie Izzard voices the chivalrous and psychopathic warrior mouse who kills more people in single combat than just about anybody else. Seriously, he’s awesome as he makes fun of the Telmarines for having no imagination in their reactions to seeing him, right before he slits their throats.
Andrew Adamson is back in the director’s chair, and the movie has a much surer footing than the last one. Visually, the pacing is much improved and the tone is murkier. The stakes are clear from the very beginning, and while the movie never forgets the whimsy that marked the first movie, it goes for a darker visual look that fits the scheming politics that undercut the movie.
Visually, the land of Narnia still brings a lot of wonder and whimsy. The CGI animal characters are much improved, and the centaurs & fauns are still greatly realized, and this time around Minotaurs also get some great screen time. Battles are eye catching and the action is generally improved over the first installment.
Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely seem more comfortable with tinkering with C.S. Lewis’ work this time. I understand a little bit more has been changed from the book to film transition, which I’ll admit is probably necessary since they are two different storytelling mediums. It worked for Lord of the Rings.
Harry Gregson-Williams returns to the soundtrack, composing another great score and also voicing a squirrel in the movie.That's a sentence I never thought I'd write.
I liked Prince Caspian quite a bit more than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It just feels like a more polished product with the cast and crew more comfortable with the fictional universe being created. Making a sequel darker than its previous installment doesn’t always work, but considering the nature of the story here, I’d say that it does. Its going to be interesting to see what happens with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Its been a little while since we’ve tossed some good ol’ fashioned whimsy into the mix. I’ve always felt bad about not really getting into C.S. Lewis’ fantasy epic The Chronicles of Narnia, but I had a fairly bad experience growing up watching what I believe were some of the BBC versions from the 80s where the budgets and the acting were not very good and I got bored of it fast. So when a new rendition was released for the new millennium, well, I was hesitantly interested in seeing it. Here’s 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Fleeing the Blitz of London during the Second World War, the Pevensie children are sent to the house of a professor in the English countryside to keep them safe. There, they discover a gateway to a magical world in the thrall of an eternal winter and find themselves in the position of being promised ones who legend says would free Narnia from tyranny.
Lucy Pevensie: Georgie Henley plays the youngest Pevensie sibling, the bright-eyed, innocent, idealist Lucy. She’s also basically the point-of-view character, and her ability to convey wonder at finding a different, magical world within a wardrobe is pretty important.
Peter Pevensie: William Moseley is the eldest Pevensie and the “leader.” Except, he’s kind of a jerk. Sure, he’s the second most skeptical about Narnia existing, but its really in his treatment of Edmund that makes him a jerk. Sure, Edmund’s also a jerk, but he goes through a character arc here. Peter browbeats him at the beginning of the movie for selfishness, then browbeats him later a couple of times, showing the audience that this is something of a habit. When in Narnia, he only gets a few bright ideas to shine in and becomes the de facto general, but he’s never done anything like this before, so its not really a surprise when the battle turns into a rout and he gets completely schooled in a duel with the villain.
Susan Pevensie: Anna Popplewell plays the second oldest Pevensie, and is also “the smart one.” Sometimes a little too smart and not afraid to let others know, she ends up getting a bow & arrow because I guess she’s got the upper body strength to draw back a bow for maximum effect. Or something.
Edmund Pevensie: Skandar Keynes, who’s name indicates he will grow up, build a longboat and raid the North Sea, plays the most interesting Pevensie, the troubled Edmund. Ed’s a jerk in this story, being neither the oldest, nor smartest, nor cutest, so he’s got to be the troublemaker. But he’s also got some nice depth. That first scene where he runs back into the house and Peter drags him back out wasn’t for a selfish reason like Peter said it was. He was going back in to get a photograph of his father, who was off fighting in the war, which is actually a touching, selfless act. Once he gets to Narnia he gets really stupid, selling his siblings out for sweets and a sleigh ride, but the whole point of that dalliance with villainy is to give him some solid character development for later.
Jadis, the White Witch: Tilda Swinton plays up the ice queen of Narnia, a real cold lady with a frigid demeanor- okay, I’ll stop. She’s the villain, a very powerful user of magic. She’s got a staff that can turn people/animals to stone at a touch and her magic is keeping Narnia in a permanent winter. Everybody’s afraid of her for the most part, and as the movie goes on, she gets more and more dangerous. She’s evil, all right. Sexy evil.
Mr. Tumnus: James McAvoy plays a rather timid faun that Lucy meets on her first trip to Narnia. He puts in an incredibly likable performance, and the realization of making the upper half of a character human and the lower half bipedal and goatlike is fantastically well done.
Ginarrbrik: Kiran Shah (who was Frodo’s body double in Lord of the Rings) is the White Witch’s right hand henchman, and a psychotic little guy.
Professor Kirke: Jim Broadbent is the professor who owns the house in which the wardrobe resides. He also seems to have some knowledge of Narnia himself.
Mr. & Mrs. Beaver: Ray Winstone & Dawn French voice two beavers that take the Pevensies under their protection when the White Witch starts looking around for them. The voice acting for both is great, but the CGI is a little bit off on them. Not bad, just…aging quickly, I suppose is the best way to put it.
Maugrim: Michael Madsen plays the wolf that is the head of the White Witch’s secret police. Fairly cool since he’s a vicious psycopath, just not in the movie all that much.
Aslan: Liam Neeson is probably the best option available to voice a majestic lion that is also a clear analog for Christ. He’s an ideal ruler; wise, forgiving, understanding, self-sacrificing and all that good stuff. And interestingly, for all that, he’s not really boring. Also, compared to other Christ-figures in fiction, he’s also capable of eating people’s faces off when he needs to. Now that’s a badass Jesus analog.
Oreius: Patrick Kake is Aslan’s general, and a centaur. Only shows up near the end for the big battle, but he’s a stern, capable warrior that was my runner up for badass of the film. He’s certainly more competent in the battle than Peter.
Directed by Andrew Adamson (who also directed the first two Shrek movies) does an interesting job of trying to capture the sense of wonder required for a world of talking animals and all that. Its very well shot, but the beginning half of the movie feels very light and fluffy and inconsequential compared to the second half, where the stakes get raised dramatically and the story picks up the pace. The second half is incredibly dramatic, and goes into some pretty dark territory what with the heroic sacrifice involved amid a nocturnal ritual that is genuinely creepy. There’s one battle scene, at the end which does some very nice inventive things with armies that include minotaurs, fauns, centaurs, dwarves and griffons. Speaking of which, the special effects on the fauns and centaurs are incredibly well done, as are the effects on Aslan. Some of the other talking critters don’t quite mesh well with their surroundings, but its nothing bad.
Book by Clive Staples Lewis, adapted for the screen by Andrew Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. A sense of wonder and discovery pervades the movie, and this is of course a good thing. The pacing does feel a little bit uneven though, and I’m pretty sure Peter isn’t meant to be thought of as a jerk.
The score by Harry Gregson-Williams does a great job of conveying both wonder and ADVENTURE! However, its not quite up there with some of the other fantasy themes we’ve had in the last ten years.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a fine little film that is a very good kids’ fantasy (which it was intended to be ever since Lewis wrote it). Still, it does feel fairly light and slightly uneven in places. However, when the movie clicks, its magical, and the hybrid special effects of makeup and CGI are incredibly convincing. Its definitely worth a watch.
Friday, December 04, 2009
But this time, its in SPACE!
So the time is the FUTURE and somehow mankind has set up a colony on the Moon and the maiden voyage of a passenger shuttle takes off when disaster strikes. The flight crew get taken out by a rogue computer and they’re headed for the Sun and the only man who can safely land this thing is the shell-shocked former test pilot of it who’s recently escaped from a mental institute. Also, someone’s smuggled a bomb onto the flight.
Ted Striker: Robert Hayes returns as the deadpan, slightly sad looking hero who escapes from an asylum to try to prevent the launch of the flight but becomes a passenger to also try and stop his ex-girlfriend from marrying a jerk.
Elaine Dickinson: Julie Hagerty returns as Ted’s estranged lover who loves him but can’t be with him because…hey. They just reset their status quo for the movie. Anyway, she’s got a fiancée who’s a jerk, that’s the reason why she can’t be with Ted.
Captain Oveur: Peter Graves is back as the captain who gets incapacitated by the events of the movie. He takes a keen interest in a young boy brought up to the cockpit. A very keen interest.
Simon Kurtz: Chad Everett is Elaine’s jerkass fiancée who knows more about the flaws of the shuttle than he’ll admit. He’s also written out about halfway through.
Steve McCroskey: Lloyd Bridges is back as an air traffic controller brought out of retirement to help with the disaster. Now fully off his rocker, he gets some great bits, but he’s really not in the film all that much.
Controller Jacobs: Stephen Stucker returns as (I’m going to assume his first name’s Johnny) the drive by one-liner machine.
Joe Seluchi: One half of Sonny & Cher was in this movie: the man who would one day be Congressman Sonny Bono. He’s the guy who brings the bomb onto the plane.
Commander Buck Murdock: William Shatner is the man in mission control on the Moon who has to try and talk Striker down for a landing, but he and Striker have a bitter history going back…to…the…war. Oh. Anyway, his deadpan delivery is fantastically hammy, and he’s probably my pick for badass of the movie.
It’s directed by Ken Finkleman (who’s done mostly TV work but also, uh, Grease 2) and visually, its okay. Not really great, but serviceable. The props and sets are all low budget, which the movie plays up in visual gags. Structurally, it recycles a hell of a lot from the first movie. Sci-fi gets parodied a lot in this film, like the opening title crawl that’s obviously based on Star Wars.
Ken Finkleman on script duties. Most of the movie’s gags are recycled from the first one, and the new stuff is all fairly hit or miss. It follows the same formula as the first movie, perhaps a little too closely, actually, and a lot of the new jokes during the first half hour just don’t really work at all (like a boy’s dog being shot by an airline employee because “pets aren’t allowed on the flight” but its okay because it was a joke and the gun only had blanks and the dog gets up and…ugh, its not a funny joke). Some of the new stuff though is pretty good, like the “video screen” that Shatner gets introduced on actually just being a window to a door that he opens up (its…not as funny when I try to describe it). The pacing’s odd, because for the first half hour, I actually really didn’t find much funny, but once it picked up, the movie improved.
Original music by Elmer Bernstein, and its quite good for the nature of the film. Then for some reason the Battlestar Galactica theme (the original one by Stu Philips) is the fanfare playing over the opening crawl. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great fanfare, its just…odd that its in here.
Sequelitis is in full effect in Airplane II: The Sequel. Hell, they even put it in the title. It suffers mostly from being practically a remake of the original, making it feel like a cheap money grab by the studio. Its still an amusing movie, and there’s quite a bit to enjoy, but honestly, there’s not enough new stuff to earn a hearty recommendation. Its not a waste of time, but its entirely understandable if you skip this one.
Trailer over on IMDB. Apparently its a Christmas movie to boot.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
I was exceedingly harsh on Jerry Zucker’s First Knight, and deservedly so, but the Zucker name is also associated with one of the most fondly remembered comedies of the modern film era. Chances are good you’ve seen this film already a billion times on cable or satellite TV. Its time for 1980’s Airplane!
Against the backdrop of a looming airline disaster where the entire flight crew and half the passengers have been disabled by food poisoning, one shell shocked man is the only one capable of landing that plane, and the only reason he’s on that flight is because he’s trying to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend.
Ted Striker: Robert Hayes is our Hero. Intentionally generic, he was shot down during “The War” after a mission went sour, leading to his “drinking problem.” Generic though he may be, Hayes does a great job of playing the character straightforward, making it fairly believable.
Elaine Dickinson: Julie Hagerty is a stewardess on the flight and Ted’s ex. She does a fine job of being in distress and worried all the time.
Steve McCroskey: Lloyd Bridges is the Chicago air traffic control chief who’s trying to coordinate the safe landing of the flight. Most of his role is played straight. He doesn’t start the movie off as the insane lunatic that people associate with Lloyd Bridges comedy roles, but he does get there by the end.
Rex Kramer: Robert Stack plays a retired Air Force Captain called in to help call the plane in, but he and Striker have a bitter history between them.
Dr. Rumak: Leslie Nielsen in his first comedic role. He plays a doctor on the flight who’s trying to treat all the sick passengers and is a go-between character between them and the makeshift flight crew. Mostly he’s there to provide incredible deadpan delivery of one liners.
Randy: Lorna Patterson is the other stewardess and the one that gets the most interaction with the passengers. She’s actually really good and does some fantastic comic reactions.
Johnny: Stephen Stucker plays the “camp gay” air traffic controller working under McCroskey. His job is not to help in any way shape or form. He’s there to basically drive by, throw a rapid one-liner and then leave. And its great.
Captain Oveur: Peter Graves is the straight-faced captain of the flight who takes a keen interest in the young boy brought up to the cockpit. A very keen interest.
Roger Murdock: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, that one) plays the co-pilot of the flight.
Otto: The automatic pilot of the plane, inflated in case of emergency. It’s an incredibly lame pun, yes, but Otto gets some great visual gags (well, that’s all he gets since he has no dialog whatsoever) and honestly, a friendly, inflatable pilot keeping a plane level is hilarious. Otto is the movie’s badass on that visual alone.
Directed by Jim Abrahams (remember the Hot Shots films?) and David & Jerry Zucker, the movie looks pretty good. Most of the visuals go toward background gags, over the top reactions and so on. When things like the airplane look fake, its obviously intentional because we’re romping through the wonderful land of farce.
Abrahams & the Zucker Bros. again, keeping the rapid fire comedy hurtling along. Not every gag works, true, but there’s so many of them being thrown around that a lot are bound to stick. Dialog is deadpan and fast and a lot of the movie’s real comedy comes through that. Characters will say something, we move to a new scene, and then the audience goes “wait, they just did what!?” Pacing is frenetic in the movie, except I wasn’t really a fan of the flashback sequences, those went on a little too long in my opinion, but nothing deal breaking.
Elmer Bernstein did the score of the movie, and its really good. It’s fairly straightforward and serious, emphasizing the whole deadpan thing going for it. The sound effects are also helpful for the comedy, like when the jet engines start up, you hear prop engines instead. Stuff like that.
Airplane! is another of those comedies that’s become etched into the pop culture. Its been quoted to death, imitated to death, and overplayed on cable to death. But surely the reason for all of that is because its hilarious. It’s a solid farce and parody of the overly dramatic “disaster movie” genre, and if somehow you’ve never seen it, do so. Its worth your time.
…And don’t call me Shirley.
Monday, November 30, 2009
No, wait! Come back!
Look, there are perfectly good reasons to look at video games, particularly modern ones, as a legitimate medium of visual storytelling. Graphics have increased to a level where they can almost compete with top level CGI productions (and completely blow away bottom level ones) and the medium can simulate decisions and consequences in ways that a 90 minute film can’t. As video gaming in general emerges from the basement of the antisocial (everybody’s heard of Mario and Halo's a pretty cool guy who kills aleins and doesn't afraid of anybody), developers, particularly ones interested in interactive fiction have made some absolutely fantastic games that blur the lines between simply killing the hell out of things and “choose your own adventure” style storytelling. Officially it’s a “role-playing game” but here, interactive story is more appropriate. An interactive story where you can kill bad guys and level up. Canadian developer Bioware has been making these kinds of games since the early 90s, and their 2007 opus, Mass Effect definitely counts. Originally released for the Xbox 360, its also available on PC, and it’s a big story.
Okay, so in 2148, humanity discovered ancient ruins on Mars left behind by an extinct civilization called the Protheans, who used advanced technology based around mass accelerators and a fictional substance called “element zero.” This discovery jumped human tech forward 200 years and facilitated rapid colonization across the stars, eventually leading to contact (and a brief war) with other alien species. Eventually making peace with them and joining up with these so called “Council Races” humanity is now the new kid on the galactic block, looking to earn its place among the rest of the aliens who run civilized space. And that’s all backstory.
The main character is a human marine in the Earth Systems Alliance Navy and a candidate to be the first human being allowed into the Spectres, a group of elite, independent agents who are “the right hand of the Council” (basically commandos, diplomats and wetwork agents rolled into one). An evaluation mission to a human colony to recover a Prothean artifact goes sour when another Spectre, an alien named Saren shows up with an army of sentient robots and blitzes the colony to get access to the beacon. You survive, but the beacon gets destroyed and a lot of people die in the raid. The Council is not happy with you, but they’re also not happy that one of their most decorated Spectres might’ve gone rogue. What follows is a big, big storyline where you have to earn your way into the Spectres, prove Saren’s a traitor, chase his trail across several alien worlds and discover that what he’s trying to accomplish threatens all organic life in the galaxy. No pressure, Commander.
Commander Shepard: This is you. You is a very flexible concept. You can be male or female, have access to multiple character backgrounds and military records you can be and have six combat classes to choose from. For instance, you can be an orphan from Earth who’s an infiltrator (sniper) with a ruthless reputation, or you can be a space-born engineer who single-handedly held off an enemy invasion on a colony world. These aren’t just for flavor, they affect side quests and how some characters talk to you. Even more capable of shaping your character are your decisions during the game. Sometimes you get access to “Paragon” or “Renegade” dialog options where you can affect outcomes. Taken to their purest forms, you can either build yourself into a full paragon “Captain America in space” character or a completely ruthless asshole. Either way, you still have to save the universe. Voiced by Mark Meer (male) or Jennifer Hale (female)
Captain David Anderson: The ever awesome Keith David is the badass human captain of the SSV Normandy an experimental, high performance frigate that is your vehicle of choice for hopping around the galaxy. He’s a respected veteran in the Alliance Navy and has some history with Saren.
Jeff “Joker” Moreau: Seth Green is the snarky, smartassed hotshot pilot of the Normandy. You eventually find out why he’s never seen outside of his pilot’s seat.
Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko: Raphael Sbarge voices a human biotic in the Alliance military. Biotics are people with modified genetics that can affect mass fields using their minds. Essentially a telekinetic engineer, Kaiden’s a quiet fellow who’s mentally stable as far as early biotics go, he only gets migraines instead of “the crazy.”
Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams: Kimberly Brooks voices a human marine that your squad rescues/picks up on Eden Prime, the site of the mission where the beacon gets blowed up. A career soldier with a long family history of service to the Alliance, she’s not exactly trusting of the aliens, but later reveals a surprising amount of depth for a “run and gun ooh-rah” soldier. A great, solid, ass kicking female character. (and yes, her name is a shout out to Evil Dead)
Garrus Vakarian: Brandon Keener voices the Turian (one of the major alien races) you recruit on the Citadel (basically the Capital of Space), he’s a cowboy cop who knows Saren’s crooked and tags along with you to dispense some justice. Depending on how you play, you can either help him decide to be renegade or paragon himself. He’s also a crack shot with a sniper rifle if you level him up right.
Urdnott Wrex: Steven Barr voices the game’s biggest badass, a Krogan “Battlemaster” who’s a tough mother of an alien that can destroy people with biotics and is a tank with a shotgun. Krogans are a reptillian/amphibian like race of warriors and mercenaries (think Battletoads with shotguns and the ability to affect mass fields with their minds and you’re on the right track) who are dying out thanks to a genophage they’ve been infected with that has lowered their birth rate to almost nil. Wrex’s real charm is in his old soldier attitude and general willingness to do very bad things to get the job done.
Tali’Zorah nar Rayya: Liz Sroka voices Tali, a Quarian engineer that you pick up along the way who has evidence implicating Saren. Quarians are a mysterious species that aren’t trusted much after they created a race of machine servants called the Geth that developed sentience and went murderously rogue. Tali herself is on a pilgrimage, a coming of age journey away from her people to bring back something interesting/useful. Sort of like traveling to Europe to find yourself after college. She’s also the only female member of your party that you can’t romance, leaving many fans…frustrated (think of it this way, she’s got the personality of Kaylee from Firefly but has to wear a hermetically sealed sterile suit at all times in the rest of the galaxy because Quarians have basically no immune systems).
Dr. Liara T’Soni: Ali Hillis voices an Asari scientist that you recruit. She’s young for one of her race (blue skinned, human-like mono-gendered alien space babes that can live for thousands of years). She’s not really skilled in social interaction, and she’s also somewhat naïve, but damn are her biotics powerful.
Admiral Steven Hackett: Lance Henriksen is the commander of the Alliance Fifth Fleet and exists only as a faceless voice. Most of the game you think he’s a minor character, just calling you up from time to time to give you side missions, but even this minor character’s important, because by the end, **Spoilers**the entire goddamn Fifth Fleet is the cavalry that comes screaming in to give Sheppard a hand in wrecking the bad guys’ shit. As far as cutscenes go in video games, its one of the rare moments where I’ve jump off my couch and shouted “Fuck Yeah!” at the TV. **End Spoilers** Not bad for a character who exists only as a voice.
Saren Arterius: Fred Tatasciore voices the Bad Guy that you chase across the galaxy. He’s a Turian Spectre that doesn’t like humans, but he’s also planning something. Something big. Something bad. Something that threatens the entire galaxy and all civilization in it. To help him, he’s got an army of Geth, synthetic life forms (genuine artificial intelligences in the Mass Effect universe are illegal because they always tend to take the “kill all organics” approach to politics: case in point, the Geth) that worship him as a kind of prophet. He’s also got an Asari Matriarch (a very, very powerful biotic) named Benezia (Marina Sirtis) as his lieutenant (she’s also Liara’s mother). Saren’s a bad, bad dude and a great villain.
Well, uh, there are a lot of people involved in the production of a video game, but the project director was Casey Hudson. The visual style of the game is simply incredible. Enormously cinematic with fantastically well thought out technology, aliens and structures, the visual immersion is staggering in its quality. Gameplay is also quite fun (its an over-the-shoulder shooter in real-time, itself an exception to standard RPG conventions) though not quite perfect. Elevator rides are notoriously long loading screens and a lot of the exploration of less important planets can feel a little redundant visually as you drive the Mako over rocky expanses over and over (the Mako itself is a love-it-or-hate-it vehicle. Its either a ungainly truck that handles like a lobster trying to ice skate or it’s a tenacious mountain goat that can conquer the tallest mountain). But overall, the experience of playing the game is addictively satisfying.
Lots of writers for this one. Drew Karpyshyn, Lukas Kristjanson, Mike Laidlaw, Chris L’Etoile, Mac Walters and Patrick Weekes have collectively created a sprawling, insanely detailed and well-thought out universe. There is an in-game codex you can look up and find explanations for every race, group and technology you can encounter. They even explain why you never run out of ammo. And it makes sense in context. Every single planet you can scan in your travels has a paragraph written up about it, even the ones you can’t land on and provide nothing more than story flavor. The way they explain space travel is also fantastic. Instead of something like a warp drive or light speed, the spacecraft in the game use Mass Relays to travel across the galaxy. Mass Relays are basically giant rail guns that fire ships to other Mass Relays. Let me repeat: the game has Rail Guns. That fire. Space ships.
Dialog in the game is also fantastic, which is a good thing, because there is A LOT of it. Many of the conversations you can have provide options for renegade answers, which can be hilariously sociopathic. For example, you can make Shepard call one of the floating, alien Hanar a “big, stupid jellyfish.” (which is exactly what it looks like). Consequences of your actions are also fantastically well thought out, but I’m not going to mention any of those because they’re all spoilers.
The original music by Jack Wall & Sam Hulick is of an equivalent quality level as the rest of the game, which is good. Sweeping and action oriented, the score mixes real instruments with electronic touches and works brilliantly for the genre.
Now, I haven’t exactly gone on about gameplay and so on because that’s not how we roll here at RMWC. However, based solely on the merits of the story and presentation alone, the game is absolutely fantastic and a brilliant example of the “gaming as storytelling” medium at its finest. Mass Effect is unquestionably recommended if in-depth video games are your thing, especially since the sequel is coming out in early 2010.
Oh Wrex, you card.