Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Jane, stop this crazy thing!" Movie Review Quickies, VI

At a better pace, Net-flixation is practically giving it all away at the end of the year! Take that, 2010! I have 7 quick movie reviews to help keep you warm in this first frigid week of December: Anaconda, Die Hard 2, The Goonies, Indecent Proposal, The Fifth Element, Man on the Moon, and Spiderman 2. Live it, love it, want it.

Modest, shallow, semi-ok-considering-it's-a-crappy-b-movie creature feature from 1997. Lopez is making a documentary in the Amazon, and a hunter hijacks the film crew. He's hunting a snake so large it shouldn't be able to move. That's actually the story...

Back then, Lopez still seemed like she wanted to be a real actress. I can't berate Jon Voight's performance much, but I'll say that he thinks he's giving himself more "latino-ness" by making his mouth look like a piranha. No, seriously.

The fx are decent, but sometimes bad. It doesn't look awful, and the story shows some actual effort. The results just aren't worth watching…

Die Hard 2
Pretty… Decent? It's Christmas, so John McClane is trying to rescue his wife, who is again caught up in a crime of super-villain proportions. The viewer gets something worse than part 1, though definitely better than parts 3 & 4.

If you limited your viewing to movies that you really "should" see, you could skip this. I'd recommend it for the big screen, as Bruce Willis is firmly in "decent summer action blockbuster" territory and it's still a lot of fun. The chases and fights are well-done. The airplanes-in-danger angle, naturally, might play even worse today than it did at the time. Also, there are odd attempts to stick to the "formula" of the original. They even bring out a cameo from Bruce's platonic soul-mate, Al Powell.

Please don't ever forget: aside from guns, jokes, and the lead's indestructible determination, the consistent theme of the "Die Hard" movies is watching "the people who are really in charge" fail to handle a crisis that a good-hearted, regular joe can tackle. That is, if a "regular joe" could survive jumping from a speeding snowmobile as it explodes.

However, no matter how many times he improbably cheats death, Willis (young Willis!) is great; it's sorta sad to say, but he's an easy character to watch. The film is very smart for acknowledging that John McClane would become famous after his televised heroism. Great line from a villain: John McClane. I read about you in People Magazine. You seemed a bit out of your league on Nightline, I thought.

As usual, John prioritizes better than "the brass" - they're not as hostile and incompetent as before, but we're supposed to trust McClane's judgment above all. His instincts about the crime and the criminals are spot on, and hours ahead of "every who's really in charge."

Problems that never plagued the first "DH," pop up though. The roles are colorful, but even the enemies aren't as engaging as before. That's a minor nitpick, and it's not an acting issue. Yet there isn't as much character material in general... Holly's still in danger, but the hero isn't dealing with wounded pride or a broken marriage. The absence only matters because nothing is brought in to replace it.

Also, the pictures' sensibilities are nastier now. While "Die Hard" featured lots of cursing, the language generally worked for the setting, characters, and humor; it's completely forgivable because it's usually so funny. Here, we get to see John Amos say, "We're here to j### off that c### s###er until he tries to take off." Um, #1 - eww; #2 - don't use "off" 2x in 1 sentence! Nor do those words help establish Amos' Major Grant well enough to make up for a clumsy, ugly line like that.

Also, though I know I'll have a blast describing the gay subtext between Sgt. Al Powell and John in the first film, what's featured here is just weird: lots of military guys who seem to have a sadistic relationship with each other. I think showing male onscreen nudity to match female onscreen nudity is fair, but we also get regular baddie William Sadler as Colonel Stuart. The evil Colonel is introduced with a full-body rear shot; he's watching tv, doing naked thai chi. They never do anything with all this darkly-sexual subtext - given all the guns, no one should want them to...

Not a minor nitpick: "DH2" is a far dumber effort than the original. The biggest problem with the bad guys' plan is that it depends on a super-blizzard. Without it, the planes aren't dependent on Dulles Airport; 2 hours of fuel is more than enough to reach other major airfields. Also, the planes could easily overcome the communication problems - like with the phone that we see Holly McClane repeatedly use to call her husband.

The end, where Bruce wisecracks, punches, and shouts his way to victory, boils down to lighting a flow of jet fuel to blow up "an evil plane" and create a landing path. It's a pretty sad statement that the Capitol's biggest airport couldn't think up such a simple fix…

The Goonies
A bunch of social misfits, senselessly called "Goonies" by their peers, get involved with gangsters and a local pirate legend.

It's a pretty fun picture, nostalgia aside. The characters and setting are all made and meant in the purest, kiddie-est sense of fun. The adventure at the film's heart, however, is weird and kinda dumb and doesn't make much sense. Yet the cliche of the family that's a heartbeat away from financial ruin - along with the cruel repossessors, the town bullies, the hopeless crush - they all work in this story.

Chunk is used pretty horribly by the movie, but that's small potatoes compared to the disfigured good soul with two evil brothers and an IQ below 80. Even when the movie shocks you with its insensitivity to a dangerously fat child, you realize the bad guys are called the Fratelli Brothers ("fratelli" = "brothers" in italian), and you can't take it seriously. Hell, Joe Pantolione, Robert Davi, and Momma from "Throw Momma Off the Train" are trying to murder a handful of kids, and you can't it take it seriously.

The last time I saw this movie, I was 24. I was completely floored that I never realized "The Goonies" involves a cast of teens who constantly say that they're looking for "One-Eye Willy's Buried Treasure." Eww.

It sounds like the main appeal, currently, for The Goonies is for 80's fans, druggies, and kids. I guarantee all three groups will enjoy themselves, but this movie can probably have a decent pull over lots of other types…

Indecent Proposal
Awful, awful, awful in every way. It's so awful, I'll discuss one part of the film.

"Architect" Woody Harrelson (yeah right) designed a dream house, but can't afford to buy it; he goes to gamble, with wife Demi Moore in tow, in order to get the necessary cash before someone else buys the place. But fortune smiles crookedly when Robert Redford spots them at a table, flirts with Demi, then offers to give them the money they need in exchange for a night of sex with Demi.

The young couple argues with each other, she runs off to do it, he doesn't say anything until he panics and tries to stop them but it's too late. So Demi and Robert Redford "did it," and "it" then undermining their marriage. Redford then buys the home that they f'ed themselves over for (snort). Then Woody can't handle the fact that his girl was ravished - and Redford was good! - so he pushes her away til she goes. Demi then actually figures out a way to make herself a tramp by starting to date Redford(?!). Woody tries to fix his mistakes and repair his life with the questionable harlot he loved…

So you start with a rock-stupid premise. The worst part is that it isn't even shocking; shocking is how dumb the couple are. As Woody self-destructs - y'know, guilt, shame spiral - toppling Demi like a domino, his anger and resentment are too much. Even tho she was stupid for saying "well, we do need the money," she still did something for the sake of their relationship. How much fun does the first half of that movie sound?

The next phase of "IP" is post-divorce: Woody is just floating along, and occasionally looking like a crack addict (ahem). She's dating a guy the rich bastard, a man she shouldn't be able to even look at. She has reasons like him buying sex from her, killing her marriage - stuff like that. She doesn't get that dating him makes this creepy, either, huh? And cheapens her bigtime? So that's another chunk of the movie's running time that doesn't sound like a nice ride.

And what's Redford's appeal? He's a "classy" multimillionaire who buys sex from strangers and ruins marriages at a casino because it's all just so bourgeoisie to him. Just because RR is still good-looking doesn't mean the character isn't terribly ugly. So we get more time with him and Demi, whoring it up. Meanwhile, Woody goes through a ridiculous, un-touching path to being less of a moron, and saves his fractured marriage to a woman I can't care about.

"Indecent Proposal" missed its calling as a silent film - as a nice series of pictures, it satisfies.

I know Jonathan Demme directed this, and it's got great stars in it, and it has Sade singing "No Ordinary Love," but this movie really stinks. The story description alone tells you what kind of ridiculous trash was unleashed on the public in 1993. I actually kind of feel like Demi's role did here - being asked to buy into ugly, angry, feelings of these unsympathetic well-off jerks is simply too much.
He bought sex from me. Now that I'm divorced, it's ok to date this ass, right?

The Fifth Element
Luc Besson dreamed up the outline for this movie when he was just a child. A lot of child-like sensibilities show up in "The Fifth Element" - silliness, happiness, simplicity of message and purpose. Many people Love this film - not just as a great scifi genre entry - but I'm not quite in their camp. I think "TFE" is a really good flick that drops the ball in a few important ways.

It's sad, really, because I make a lot of exceptions here - some elements only exist because this film was a marriage between the film and fashion industries. The actors (at least 5 major models) and abrupt shifts and clothing styles suggest the Gauthier should probably be billed as co-creator. Actually, since Prince was supposed to play Ruby, there's good evidence that the music industry was also going to find it's place here…

"The Fifth Element" is great at creating a fleshed-out world, and great for showing uber-man Bruce Willis being dragged through an intergalactic episode of "24." It does this well, and also nicely showcases Milla Jovovich. Milla is fantastic as Lilu, a perfect embodiment of a "best case scenario" human being. I guess this is a good place to mention that Milla actually lost the part until director (then lover) Besson saw her get out of a hotel pool - that's when Luc decided that she was indeed "the perfect woman."

So there's a lot of childishness here, despite the massive stakes and high body count. There are two things that are always going to ruin "The Fifth Element" for me: first, the grating annoyance of Chris Tucker. I can't fault his acting because Ruby is terrible, but the constant high-pitched screaming is painful. Ruby is a minor actor that should be left out of a lot of scenes, yet he's sandwiched into them…

The other big problem, sadly, is the famous aria scene - while a blue alien sings a classic opera, Milla unleashes her not-so-inner badass on ugly aliens. Well, the spastic new-age reinterpretation of the opera is dumb: the character sort of remixes some non-vocal singing in a way that really bothers me. What's worse, this moment of mostly-lovely song is intercut with a fight where Milla gently smacks some aliens to comic effect. It's not a good idea to have your ass-kicking female hero in a fight that has sound effects like "boing!" and "twittering birds." I swear, it will ruin the fight almost every damn time, and "TFE" doesn't have enough comedy for me to just accept these failed scenes…

In the end, "The Fifth Element" is an ambitious, fun, and mostly-empty scifi/action movie that gets it 85% right, 10% wrong/off, and 5% hideously/horribly wrong. Whether you'll like it depends on how forgiving you are to its flaws, and whether you're having such a good time that you can quickly forget the things that will really bother you here. And there are just a few things that will definitely bother you unless you're slightly drunk.
It's bold to see a voice-less trailer, huh? Sounds like "Unbelievable," too...

Man on the Moon
An unfortunate film. Jim Carrey gives everything he's got to portray the late, great Andy Kaufman. Why "unfortunate?" Because "MotM" didn't go deep into its subject, nor impressed me as a movie. Also, Michael Stipe's voice is as pleasant as a horny cat's sounds - so while REM has some nice tracks, the title song here was not a selling point.

AK was a skilled comedian, but the film clearly heaps too much praise on its subject. How can you tell it's over the top? The first time anyone talks to Andy, it's to tell him "You're insane, but you might also be brilliant." This is far too much, far too early. These sorts of shortcuts - telling us Andy is brilliant without actually showing it to the audience - riddle the movie. Andy was great, and a gifted meta-comedian, but this movie doesn't capture that, or work to convince the viewer.

Finally, a note about Jim Carrey. I largely like the guy. He's gifted at comedy - if not choosing his projects - and he can act very well. Now, it's possible that folks could like this picture way more than I did. But no one should have any doubts about Jim Carrey's chances of winning an Oscar for... anything. Wanna know why? Well, I can't find a clip on youtube, so let me tell you: Jim's first appearance at the Oscar ceremony was to present an award with his then-wife, Lauren Holly. He turned around, bent over, and moved his butt as if he were talking out of it; then he talked about how that moment would be in Oscar history forever. Guess what, dumb-ass? You're not getting an Academy Award until a lot of those people are dead.

In the end, this is a worship movie that is made for people who are already worshipers. Somehow, the movie seems incredibly shallow to me. Bonus negative points go to "MotM" for showing Kaufman going through chemo; so if you cancer has struck your life - or like in my case, the girl I saw it with - you're in for the opposite of a treat…

Spiderman 2
Both "X-men" and "Spiderman" felt like half-hearted efforts with minor-to-annoying weaknesses in story, acting, and script. Much like "X2," "S2" improves on every flaw in its predecessor to deliver a fun, pretty, special effects orgy. It's weird reviewing a reasonably-empty action movie that you like so much, you don't have a lot to say about it...

Peter Parker is a troubled soul. His boss is a cheap jackass who pays him next to nothing, his dream girl is dating a super-successful astronaut, and his nusto best friend batters and mocks him at a party. But Pete is a science whiz at a major university, and his fortunes seem to improve when he lands a research position with a promising scientist, Dr. Octavius (Alfred Molina). It seems like poor, orphaned Parker has found a mentor in this kind-hearted genius who may crack the secret to cold fusion.

Then the experiment goes awry, and Peter changes into his Spiderman costume to avert a massive explosion. The city's safe, but the Doctor's wife is dead, and a girdle of four metal arms has fused to Octavius' body; also the arms are sentient now, and the Doc's a little crazy. So I guess Parker's fortunes weren't exactly improving, really...

Instead of livin' the good life as a mutated NYC superhero/grad student/freelance photographer, Parker has to deal with guilt, serious cashflow problems, and his inability to make a good impression on Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). This kid does nothing but help people, and it often seems to blow up in his face. Or, considering his resume, he just really overextended himself.

This is why Peter's sense of humor is so important. Spidey's ability to maintain a smile in the face of complete ruin is exactly the sort of tool that everyone needs. Much like in Nolan's Batman movies, the city and its people seem very much a part of the story. The hero and his city are always in the fore-front, and even have a real effect on each other; it helps to sell the whole thing.

Better still, the perfectly-competent story provides a great backdrop for cool action scenes and special effects. There's a subplot about what happens when a person loses their sense of purpose, and it works well enough in the context of the first movie. It works great in the context of all the misery that piles up on one good person who tries to make a difference.

A couple of moments are hammy, but I enjoyed seeing this movie turn out so bloody well. And I liked seeing "S2" because Sam Raimi put so much more of his own style into the picture. The "raindrops keep falling" moment is absolutely brilliant. I know comic book fans who have problems with "Spiderman 2," but I had a great time watching this. I think you will too.

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