Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Movie Review Quickies, VII

Before I get to it: there are 5 new ways to view this blog: got to http://halfafilmstudent.blogspot.com/view/ and you'll see what I mean. "Sidebar" style loads automatically, but if you select the "Sidebar" button at the top, you can pick other modes. I don't know how the thumbnail system works, but I really like the "flipcard" view. I invite you to check it out.

After so long, it's back! 7 random movie reviews in one go; I cover: "The Quick and the Dead," "40 Days and 40 Nights," "Splash," "The Sweetest Thing," "The Island," "Rising Sun," and "Kiss of the Dragon." I even set up links so you can jump to the review you want to read.  I'm really going to make the next one shorter; I mean it this time....

The Quick and the Dead
Usually, movies with a bad-ass female lead make the mistake of having a female bad-ass who constantly talks about how bad-ass she is. 1995's "The Quick and the Dead" did not make that mistake. It did, however, fail to put together a compelling or thoughtful or all-out Wild West drama/action-er.

That was particularly disappointing because the cast features Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russel Crowe, Keith David (yay!), Gary Sinise, Lance Henriksen, and Sharon Stone as the lead. How can you make a movie like that and have it bomb? How did it only take $17M in the US on a $35M budget?

There's a town where it's dry and hot, and it holds a multi-day quick-draw competition. It's all overseen by the town's ruthless criminal ruler/dictator/Ubermensch - played by Hackman, he's the fastest, nastiest gun in the universe. Now the towns bustling with all sorts of gun-fighters, including a gifted kid with something to prove (Leo), a former Civil War soldier (David), a chained-up preacher with an ugly past (Crowe), and a mysterious woman with no name or reputation (Stone).

How's it all going to play out? Which ones are the quick and which ones are the dead?

Too much of the movie is disjointed. Too many characters wander into this picture - a few generate genuine emotion in the viewer, but it's not enough. At times it's flat, at times it's ludicrously over-blown. Several characters are shamefully under-used, so it feels like a lot of big talk followed by small action.

DiCaprio and Hackman are great in their roles and you may want to watch the movie for that alone. To a lesser extent that they, Stone was good too. The most credit I can really give her is that when the studio balked on DiCaprio because he wasn't (snort) a star at the time, Stone actually paid his salary. That was a great choice, and a stand-up move.

I'm a little torn on Crowe. His acting is quite good, but he's playing a role from a romance novel with a female lead. Of course, you could say the same for the female love interest in many movies, so fair's fair... "tQatD" makes very good use of him, and I like the idea of the gang member who quit and is tormented by his former boss. Yet I don't see why they would really bother, or why anyone would accept a gun-fight showdown in a town controlled by a psychotic monster.

I was surprised that this was a Sam Raimi picture because I usually enjoy his aesthetics so much. Perhaps it looked too promising, and the viewer becomes upset from the disappointment. Some scenes don't work well at all, and this picture can just be slow, slow, slow. There's issues with tone too - I actually laughed during one tragic death (it's a flashback), and I know that the film-makers didn't intend for it to be funny...

In the end, the camera-work might be the best thing here; anyone who's seen Raimi's work knows that he has a great eye. I don't know how much Sam actually did tho - Dante Spinotti was the cinematographer, both here and on The Last of the Mohicans, Red Dragon, The Insider and L.A. Confidential. Great angles and shots abound. Of course, even here we have the famous "hole on the ground" scene, which bothers me because everybody knows that shadows don't fall that way...

40 Days and 40 Nights
In 2002, my brother said that he thought this was a hysterical, raunchy movie. I thought "40 Days and 40 Nights" was roughly one-half of a good comedy, but the rest was very "off" in tone or actual... funniness.

Josh Hartnett has a terrible break-up with Ali Larter. After unsatisfying dates, he uses Lent as a way to swear off sex for a while. He only tells his best friend, who soon starts an unbelievably popular internet pool on whether he'll last. Everyone then conspires to make his life 1000x... more difficult. Of course, he also meets the perfect girl, so the lack of intimacy (and the not-so-secret secret) also make things... more difficult.

There are some great jokes here: wanting to see "stuff" is one; the labored way Josh talks when he's in the bed at the end; also, "the tongues!"

There are also some nice/cute/good enough moments, like the way his co-worker explains that she wants to seduce him - just to keep him from sharing the "power" that women have. In a comedy like this, most of the world is crazy - I think the technical term is zany.

Well, that reversal worked well, but the scene where Josh fakes it played pretty badly. There's one bad joke when he causes an accident in a restaurant, but it's followed by a good joke as he recovers from the moment. I swear, the quality of the humor is almost schizophrenic...

Although I suppose the film-makers were proud of the CGI, there's a scene where Hartnett is on the street and every woman suddenly has an ever-expanding bosom. This is dumb, and not even appropriately juvenile - a "guy" in that situation might imagine people naked, but not with inflating-balloon breasts. The sex dream at the end is no good either.

Other aspects stretch "crazy" and "zany" much too far. As Josh's will and urges are pushed to the breaking point, he acts in this spastic, tic-filled way that makes no sense (one female even says as much). Hartnett is terrified of kissing for some reason, and becomes a super-spaz just trying to turn down sex offers.

I mean, it's not like he's late for his insulin shot! Perhaps the writers intended his twitching to be "zany," but it seems more like a lack of faith in actual acting ability. It's really bothersome.

The way our character is freely and constantly abused by his best friend is dumb. Many people would have had a falling out long before - in fact, given how much attention it draws, many people would have filed a lawsuit or a police report. It's even less credible because Hartnett isn't playing a particularly nice guy - this isn't "Three's Company"...

Of course, I have to talk about the very end of the flick. All I'll say is that someone finds Hartnett in bed, asleep, and proceeds to mount him. He wakes up near the... climax and clearly doesn't want this to happen; he despises the woman on top of him and he has a girlfriend, and he says no. She proceeds anyway. Well, the movie does nothing to acknowledge the fact that he was sexually assaulted.

Maybe I should have laughed harder, or been more forgiving to the parts of it that worked. On one viewing, tho, I didn't and I'm not. As it is, I can't recommend "40Da40N" unless your taste is juvenile and/or you're thoroughly stoned. At least Shannyn Sossamon did a really fine job...

"Splash" came out in 1984 and it was a big hit. It was also the first movie released by Touchstone Pictures, which got off to a very auspicious start: it actually grossed three-fourths of its budget on its opening weekend alone. It single-handedly made Tom Hanks a star; he had only a bit of exposure beforehand, in small movie roles and the TV comedy "Bosom Buddies".

It's pretty easy to see why it worked, as it's a fine example of the Romantic Comedy going at full power. After you watch this, you'll understand why I refer to all modern efforts as "Rom-Coms."

A young boy gets thrown out of a boat and into the water, only to be saved by a young mermaid. Somehow, we end up in New York City - this is where Hanks owns a fruit/veggie wholesale company with his reckless brother, who's played by John Candy.

Hanks has a difficult job that he manages well, but he's heartsick. When his latest relationship falls apart, he gets trashed and takes a trip to Cape Cod. Once again, he's in a boat; once again, he falls out; once again, a mermaid (Darryl Hannah) saves him.

This time out, his dream-girl follows him to the big city - and gets arrested for public nudity on Liberty Island. Fate seems to want to bring them together: she has his wallet, so the cops call him when they put her in lock-up. Suddenly, his perfect match is in his life!

But she hasn't told him that she's freaking legend, and neither of them know that a desperate scientist (played by Eugene Levy) is on the hunt for her. Love is never easy, but it's a lot more difficult when you develop a tale in the bath.

This was Ron Howard's third time directing a motion picture, and it certainly paid off. I'd never even heard of "Grand Theft Auto" until I checked his filmography, and many people now don't recall - or recommend "Night Shift." In "Splash," Ron found a perfect vehicle for long-standing critical and commercial success.

The comedy here is broad and quite funny: sarcasm, sight gags, one-liners. The romance is really perfect. We care about Hanks because we see that he's a good person with a relatable problem: finding someone who makes his heart beat faster. As we come to know "Madison" (he names her after the avenue), we see that she's got big heart, and it's all for this sweet man.

Their dates - shopping, eating seafood, - do a nice job of keeping the comedic and romantic overtones moving smoothly. It plays out neatly as viewers are way ahead of Tom - they know she's a mer-person, the same one he met as a little kid. Best of all, they seem to have a fine chemistry between them.

It's no wonder that everyone expected Hannah to become a big-time actress after this. She's more than just pretty; she's terribly charming here, and does well with her material. Still, she probably has the least lines out of any of the major players.

When threats to their relationship arise, the audience has a lot of reasons to feel outraged at their separation. They're perfect for each other, and they're quite good-looking together. "Splash" has been casting a spell on its viewers since the opening 20 minutes, and it never feels as long as its 111-minute running time.

It's nearly impossible not to be pulled into the pure-spirited feeling of this film. This is helped by the support: John Candy gives the perfect performance as the wild guy who hides a heart as big as his little bro. Eugene Levy plays every part of his character niftily. The familiar NYC landmarks (Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty) help ground everything.

If you're going to look at modern Romantic Comedies, you really can't do better than "Splash." It holds up remarkably well, and effortlessly displays the inferiority of what's been released in the last 10+ years. 92% on RT? Damn right!

The Sweetest Thing
This 2002 comedy very desperately wanted to be another "There's Something About Mary," and it failed that attempt on every conceivable level. The humor is mostly stupid and crass - and it's both weird and unpleasant to watch three solid-enough actresses play out dumb frat-house jokes.

Thomas Jane is fine, as are his final scenes with Cameron Diaz. I found the apartment scene at the very end to be as unfunny as most of the rest of the film - until Applegate started singing "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood; then it became hysterical. Still, "tST" was a shameful waste of a comedy budget, and the abilities of the cast. I think it's pretty close to "awful."

The Island
2005 brought another revolting, empty, hollow Michael Bay shlock-fest. Ewan MacGregor lives a weird life in a high-tech base. He's a simple person who does as his care-takers command. Like everyone else in his odd underground complex, he hopes he'll one day win the lottery. This lottery has an unusual prize - getting to leave the base they live in and move off to The Island where there's a sky and sun and trees.

His growing attraction to fellow shut-in Scarlet Johansson is "against the rules," and soon they discover a terrible secret: their diet, activities, and exercise routine are carefully controlled because they and all their friends are clones! They only exist to serve as spare organs in case their real-life counterparts are injured.

It's a decent-enough sci-fi premise, even though its consequences and complications aren't explored by the picture at all. Also, letting the clones grow up and lives their little lives? That's pretty cold.

Unfortunately, that's how your heart will feel because Michael Bay still shows that he can't touch your emotions; not the positive ones, anyway.

The action is carefully-choreographed, as is every shot in an MB movie. It often zips by too fast to enjoy, and you sometimes can't tell where one thing is in relation to another, and you never forget the fact that none of this really means anything.

Sometimes, things just occur in this movie, because action scenes are better when things blow up for no reason. Or that things topple over for no reason. Or that people survive things they couldn't possibly survive, or know things they couldn't possibly have over-heard. Bay doesn't care (or respect the audience) enough to have the plots and stories and events make any sense. He just has them happen.

Really, MB must consider the story to be like an insane relative who's just had an outburst at big dinner-party: just some nuisance to be quickly moved along, as quietly as possible, then locked up in the basement or attic.

The talents of everyone involved were supremely wasted. I'm not saying this just because Ewan and Scarlett and even (the oft-hammy) Sean Bean can't do better; I'm saying this because you might as well go do anything else other than use up your time by watching "The Island." Seriously, go paint your house or something.

The one saving grace to this picture: I saw it in the theater with my friend, whose family is Guyanese. He started laughing when they announced a character's name: "Gandu Three Echo." When he could control himself, he told me that "Gandu," in an Indian language, means "a-hole." Heaven help me, that name gets repeated 40 times throughout, and it was the only joy I got during those awful 127 minutes.

I sincerely hope Bay's grave reads: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

It's not like he deserves a Shakespeare quote, but it is accurate.

Rising Sun
"Rising Sun" is a lurid and thoughtless action/cop flick based on the fairly-decent Michael Crichton novel. It was never very good - most of its appeal was like a heavily-buttered snack - and it hasn't gotten better with time.

When "RS" came out in 1993, it was probably trying to compete (at least partly) with other erotic action/cop movies like "Basic Instinct." I think this way because the first scenes feature a beautiful model having sex on a conference table. And she's into sexual asphyxiation. Then she's actually dead.

So Wesley Snipes is the homicide cop called in to investigate, and his charm is a little edgier than usual. He's already swimming in red tape because (a) these are execs at a bigtime Japanese company and (b) the sex table was a few floors above a huge party, full of political and social bigwigs, and (c) the execs act like their building is an embassy. Wes isn't mad at the waste of a fine booty; everybody's playing him.

Enter Sean Connery, hilariously cast as a guy who "went Japanese" decades ago and knows their culture inside-out. With his wide range of contacts and improbable martial arts skill, Sean will help this young hothead solve the case. But is Sean even on Wesley's side? The film makes a great effort to keep you unsure about everyone's loyalties. Everyone is playing the duo, and the unwilling partners might even be playing each other.

The story is convoluted and twisting, the result of boiling down a decent mystery/thriller novel into a 125 minute pic. The novel dealt with race issues between Japanese and Americans, and foreign impact on domestic business and technology. These ideas appear very briefly in the film, but they don't get much attention at all.

Whether you like this movie or not really depends on how much you like Connery and/or Snipes. They're both charismatic enough, even if Wesley doesn't quite feel like the right guy for the part; he seems to breeze through everything, but... If your suspension of disbelief isn't shattered, you'll enjoy Sean. Still, he's "gone Japanese" because he has a bad haircut and says Japanese words - it's actually a worse Japanese makeover than the one he wore in "You Only Live Twice."

Although I don't know if it was smart to cast either man, the leads do bring a lot to the picture. Most of the movie takes place in LA's corporate circles, so that's a lot of white; part of the movie takes place in LA's slums, so that's a lot of black. Connery and Snipes know how freakishly odd their pairing is, and they both play it to the hilt. No matter your background, I'd like to think the humor they generate is pretty universal.

The leads are good actors and do their jobs, but the other parts of "RS" don't make it all hold up. Tia Carrera appears in a neat little role as the love interest and helpful tech nerd; she should have a lot more to say, especially non-expository lines. Harvey Keitel was clearly set on "scumbag cop" mode; his racism is a pain, even as his role in the story gets confusing. Ray Wise plays a guy who looks like he molests kids during his lunch break. They don't perform badly, but they're not used very well.

The movie suffers a bit by being divided into acts. At various points everything stops - and even fades to black when Snipes is knocked out - and the film sort of begins again. I don't think that the action is good or steady enough for these act breaks to mess things up, yet they certainly don't improve a problematic picture.

As a final note: Wesley Snipes' 90's movies often had one single line that he delivered in the most "ghetto" voice possible. This time, Connery tells Snipes to look on him as a "sempai," which means that Sean is the more senior, experienced part of the team. Wes' response is, "That wouldn't happen to be anything like 'massa' now would it?" It's already a dumb line, but his role is someone who's been learning the language. In work or formal settings, names often get titles like that.

"Rising Sun" is pretty much like a Dante's Inferno trip through L.A. (what a stretch). This time, it's mostly Japanese-themed: high-stakes golf, people eat sushi off a naked woman... Worst of all is the brief trip to an all-American brothel just for Japanese men. For some reason, the director couldn't think to give the gifted, gorgeous Alexandra Powers a role with more depth, or even dialogue; giving her good material to act would've been nice.

Kiss of the Dragon
Well, Jet Li was moving quickly into the American film market, and "Kiss of the Dragon" was supposed to be 2001's effort to help make him big here. Jet plays a Chinese intelligence agent sent to Paris to stop a heroin ring. His local liaison is Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchéky Karyo), and unfortunately Jet doesn't realize that J-P is a vile cop on par with Gary Oldman's role in "Leon."

Unfortunately, the movie is only enjoyable for its few martial arts sequences. It's hard to feel much for any of the parts, save revulsion with Mr. Richard. This movie also marks a shameful low mark for Bridget Fonda, who's very awkward as the prostitute/damsel in distress.

It's no fun watching any actress, much less one who's barely on-screen anymore, as she's emotionally brutalized. But the movie keeps going back to that well, and it's all extremely annoying/tiresome/repugnant as she gets smacked around a bit too. Of course, Fonda's hooker has a good heart and a drug problem. And, of course, she has a daughter who's held captive by J-P. When she's given a chance to act, she holds her own - but there's not a lot to this punching-bag role.

Those scenes, in particular, help to break the movie. Tchéky Karyo is a good actor and I love seeing him in pictures. However, he has a screaming match with his ho that is just horribly-played; I still wished these scenes were never filmed, but I was laughing as he screaming at Bridget in a way that I swear felt like an audition for the "calm down" scene from "Airplane." Yet I take little pleasure in it, as I don't think this film intended to go for parody.

Tchéky plays the corrupt cop well, but the movie embraces this tone that's so over-the-top you soon become numb to it. Jet can actually act well enough, but he's clearly more versatile in his native language. In English, I think, he's usually extra-pretty stoic, so your sympathies never get beyond wanting the bad guy stopped. This is not good, since "KotD" is a short action flick that feels long.

As I said above, the fights can be very entertaining. Some go on, tho, or border on "Die Hard" levels of "no, really, you've gotta be now." Jet's final attack is going for "comic-reading 14-year-old boy cool," but it's just silly.

To the film's credit (never thought I'd say that), this movie used 1 CGI shot, and almost no wire-work - and the only time wires came into play, apparently, was because one fighter was kicking too fast for the camera. Admittedly, that's tremendously cool, but it's no reason to watch any movie - especially not the 98 minutes of "KotD." 51% on RT is far too high; I say it's awful.


  1. Excellent reviews, I haven't seen any of these films.
    It's a shame about The Quick and The Dead, I think Raimi is a terrific director but that film just looks pretty bad...
    Rising Sun sounds hilariously bad, Sean Connery as a guy gone Japanese is a terrible idea.

    Kiss Of The Dragon sounds pretty bad, I saw Tchéky Karyo in a film called Crying Freeman recently, he was very badly dubbed into English...

    I'll avoid The Island like I've avoided all of Michael Bay's work, apart from Transformers, which I had the misfortune to see...

    Very entertaining reviews, you should do this more often!

  2. I know it's cheesy, and by now is dated as hell, but Rising Sun is a great guilty pleasure for me, and I'm not even sure how much guilt I have over it. With a cast that deep (beyond the leads, we get Buscemi, Keitel, the aforementioned Powers, Tia Carrere, and best of all, the immortal Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and the "high-tech" jargon and the sex and the overbearing Japinsanity of it all...it's awesome. I can't turn it off if I come across it on TV.

    The Island had more promise than just about any Bay flick ever, but that's probably 'cause it stole essentially its whole plot from Logan's Run, which was already a failed version of an awesome idea or two. Who knows, maybe the inevitable Logan's remake will put them all to shame.

    Haha, I almost believed myself there...

  3. Thanks, Jack! I always look forward to Karyo, and he definitely takes some... odd parts (Wing Commander?). When he plays bad guys, he can really feel like the foreign Harvey Keitel, if you see what I mean...

    tQatD was a real let-down from Raimi. He's very good, tho, and it could've been great. Some folks might really get a kick just watching all the actors, but that doesn't mean it's a good way to pass the time...

    Fletch, I can't believe I forgot Buscemi! It's true that I enjoyed watching RS and that an audience can have some fun too. I'd read the book, and I found the movie was less than I'd expected. & all those things you highlight are "guilty pleasure" reasons =) It's not a bad ride, but I'd recommend lots of movies before it...

    You're right about The Island, it had the biggest plot-potential of any Bay film. It felt more like a Twilight Zone idea to me, but I;ll enjoy considering the Logan's Run angle!

    I have little hope for the remake... I think it's shocking that these days, there's small odds of getting something like "Logan's Run" or "Rollerball" now.


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