A Crude Drawing

(a review of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011))

(spoilers)

Okay so even numbered movies out, odd numbered movies in.

I’m kidding, I just wanted to say that. Ghost Protocol wasn’t bad, just not as good as 3 or 1. Never truly returning to spy film form, there’s little left in this series of secrecy, reconnaissance, or missions that don’t end in conspicuousness (explosions, recognition by enemy forces, whatever). All it really has left is gadgets, and imaginations sure went wild this time around. The hallway.. duplicating… thing… apparatus… was fucking awesome, and a great scene all around. I liked the plot at that point, but such started to taper off shortly thereafter.

I did not see a reason for the convolution that was the (hindsight) fiasco in Dubai. I did not agree that the assassin and the Cobalt agent (later discovered to be Cobalt himself (more hindsight)) needed to be kept alive. Although it did lead to a really cool, very long and agonizing, death of a villain. But that’s just indicative of where this series has headed: giving up logic and good storytelling for tactile audience pleasure; pandering, if you will.

I can never help with these movies but to compare them to how decent the first was. We’re in full action movie territory now without a reason to be. Watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. recently proved to me that the genre is not dead, so why not keep it alive with a series whose movies always gets top billing (or in the case of Rogue Nation a series entry that was smart enough to not open alongside James Bond and Star Wars)?

In the end, I was grabbed back in by two things. First was the villain, played by Michael Nyqvist, who also impressed me as the villain in John Wick, who as a true believer in his work pitched himself over the edge of the inside of an automated car park following a scuffle with Tom Cruise to ensure (or not (hindsight)) his work was successful (although I must make mention that the fight itself kinda blew — there’s no way that guy would have held up so well against the Ethan Hunt we have seen fight for four movies now). Second was a last touch of spy movie etiquette: diplomacy. Seeking not to disrupt international relations, Ethan Hunt made certain through a very roundabout method that the Russian agent that was hunting him for blowing up the Kremlin, an act perpetrated by the villain of course, arrived at said car park for the final showdown so that he would see the truth. It was a light touch, and perhaps a little campy in its execution, but worth it.

Last notes that I forgot about and am now too lazy to make eloquent: Jeremy Renner did fine, but his whole deal was terribly transparent; Ethan Hunt drawing a dude on his hand and showing it to Brandt was awful; the “she left him just alive enough for me to see him die” line was bullshit, considering Moreau shot Sawyer from Lost like a thousand times; and I can’t believe I’m saying this but I didn’t like Simon Pegg’s character one bit.

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Between, Not After

(a review of The Musketeer (2001))

(spoilers)

How disappointing. You wait sixteen years to see a movie that looked like it had great fight scenes, only to find out that it barely has those, and those are all it has going for it at all. The Musketeer, a very loose adaptation of Dumas’ classic serial even considering its predecessors, lacks the charm, the fun, and the general likeability of the Disney version people in my age bracket may or may not have grown up on. Trying to stand solely on its choreography, it couldn’t even be imaginative enough to squeeze more fight scenes in, whether they belonged or not.

And if I may stop to aside here, Tim Roth went out like a bitch. For a film that opens with him murdering the protagonist’s parents, I barely even noticed that the fight had ended. I thought to myself, “Okay, there’s no way he’s going to die as he “hilariously” slides down a ladder face first. Oh… Nevermind.” Most of all though this was somehow the worst sword fight in the film, a ridiculous twist on a WWE ladder match where some of the ladders are made of twigs and others made of unbreakable script armor. There was some greatness in the other fights, even a little fun in the way off-base ascension to the tower (why the fuck were there so many guards waiting for him to start climbing the side of the tower, ready to rappel down and meet him?), but the final fight, too often poorly regarded as a time to be lazy in storytelling, just did nothing right.

Tim Roth’s character Febre was an unwelcome addition to the plot anyhow, and not the only one. He was completely unable to hold a candle to the sinister Rochefort, who in this film was barely involved, and he took the role of leading antagonist away from Richelieu, better portrayed by Tim Curry than in this movie anyway, and Milady de Winter was completely absent. I remember reading that The Three Musketeers (1993) is a simplified version of the original novel’s plot, but all substance was removed completely for this rendition.

Lastly, I hated the look of the film. I know, I know, I should really learn some more terminology if I’m going to be doing this, but the damn thing looked like it was intentionally shot on a bunch of really old cameras. Overall it felt like an older film, the delivery of dialogue being quicker than would be believable and the grainy and dark picture reminding me why I don’t go further back than the 80’s unless I’m really, really interested. I wanted to like this movie, I promise I did. But at every turn I, yes I admit it, wanted to pop in the Chris O’Donnell one, because at least he, Oliver Platt, Kiefer Sutherland, and Charlie Sheen made likable fucking musketeers. And I fucking love Tim Curry and Michael Wincott.

Humans, Probably

(a review of Seventh Son (2014))

(spoilers)

I’m mostly a sucker for medieval fantasy films. Throw one in front of me and I’ll watch it (unless the words “Directed by Uwe Boll” are somewhere involved). I do have my limits, in all seriousness. Bad effects, poor writing and story, these things start to wear on my patience despite the setting. Seventh Son isn’t the bottom of the barrel for the genre, but it’s as low as I’m willing to reach.

Jeff Bridges plays the mush-mouthed aging last of the spooks, hunters of evil creatures. Spooks can only be the seventh born son of a seventh born son, but inexplicably there used to be a lot of them. Until Julianne Moore came along, as well as some more likeable actors. There’s some bull about Bridges and Moore being previously in love, and Bridges buys a new trainee after Jon Snow dies (shut up, you were thinking it too). New trainee sucks, then doesn’t, then he’s also the son of a witch because not all witches are bad, then his mom dies, and blah blah blah.

If this all sounds a bit typical, it is. Usually I’d be fine with that though, and the movie certainly had its good aspects (fun antagonists, good effects, an interesting love story, Djimon Hounsou), but between Jeff Bridges thinking that talking that way was a good idea, the extreme variance in the fight choreography styles, how rushed the whole thing felt despite the timeline making little sense, and how it ended thinking that it was going to get a sequel when it clearly would not, I can’t really find a reason to watch this movie again. I get a slight pang of guilt when I’ve purchased a DVD and know that it’ll sit on my shelf forever, or until my daughter decides to take up the mantle of film buff. Not only because I have spent the money, but also because I like to have an impressive collection, and bad, purposeless movies drag that idea down. I could get rid of it but that’s even more of a waste of money.

My point is that Seventh Son is pretty forgettable. Not truly bad but certainly not good, and even more damning is that it isn’t satisfying. It has little to stick in your mind, and a year from now I’ll look at the side of the case and briefly think, “Did I watch that one, or…?”

Three Inches Up

(a review of The Internship (2013))

(spoilers)

Meh, The Internship was okay. Not exactly hilarious or even sensible, I found myself comparing it so quickly to Wedding Crashers, a much funnier film, because of its primary cast, and Dodgeball, somewhat because of its cast as well but also due to the aging underdog theme. Plus the Will Ferrell cameo, a man I can only digest in very small doses, was way better in Wedding Crashers; in this he was just insufferable.

I felt like The Internship didn’t know what it wanted to be, raucous comedy (a goal it failed at miserably), or middle-aged comedy/drama. The protagonists are pretty insufferable themselves at times, dragging their ignorance through the mud at not only their own expense but also, unfortunately, at the audience’s. The characters in general are confusing, uncharacterized messes. Half the time I forgot that Lyle was their already-employed team leader, due to the fact that he does zero directing of them, he has as many issues and social problems that the older men need to help him through to fit the weakly laid theme of wisdom, and Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson do not defer to him whatsoever for anything. The majority of the rest of the characters were underdeveloped, and often exaggerated, cliches, from a workaholic love interest convinced to for once not stay at the office until 9PM who then puts out on the first date to the direct superior with constant snarky comments who turns out to have a heart of gold kind of. Vince Vaughn does his usual toeing of the fourth wall, because he so well works the sarcasm and facial expressions of his numerous characters to detach them slightly from the rabble, with lines and actions so discerning of current events that I can often swear he is some kind of body hopping demigod. But that’s not enough to save this movie, no.

Who does, or at least who comes close? Josh Gad, still someone with whom I am not outrageously familiar. His character “Headphones” is in three scenes that I noticed, and only in two of which does he have any lines. But he fucking kills it. He’s subtle, graceful even, a deep character begging to be moved up into more screen time to make this film unquestionably better. Not main character material, certainly, but just someone that genuinely and without force made me laugh, a rare occurrence perfect portrayal thanks to perfect casting.

And I wanted to end on that note but I feel as if I haven’t yet painted this picture accurately. There is goodness, not greatness, in this film. It really does have a wholesome message, but moreover I was impressed by some of the pacing and comedic timing, and as usual when relevant I really liked the subtlety. For example, I noticed that Vince Vaughn, after being told in no uncertain terms that there are no exceptions to the rule about taking some of the office’s free food home, is seen eating, I believe, every single one of the items he listed at some time throughout the film, either in the Google offices or elsewhere. This is never mentioned. So, the in-jokes, as I assume (hope) there are more, are great, but whatever potential there is because of them and Josh Gad and a few other key inclusions is muddled, washed out, or obscured by generally unfunny writing and story. So overall, and in fewer words, I would classify this as a movie that I would absolutely love to like more than I did.

Formaldehyde-Face

(a review of They Live (1988) and some expository drivel)

(spoilers)

I began writing this blog a year ago for two reasons. The first is I am a writer, not by trade or anything in any stretch of the imagination. I am published, but that’s not even important enough for me to link you to the Amazon page. However, undeterred, I have unlike many other things in my life persisted, starting a new novel and beginning to do this blog, a (somewhat) biweekly way to keep my fingers glued to the keys and my brain active in the art of words. The second reason is I almost always have strong feelings about a film, but the problem with that is they’re so often positive that I feel like I’m becoming redundant. “This movie was good, really good,” all over the place. It’s so much easier to just blast a movie, to just dump on it, which I am admittedly thrilled to do when it comes to pass. My best and funniest and most verbose posts are about the movies I’ve hated, while I haven’t given the proper credit to movies I’ve loved. And I think that’s the answer, or at least an answer, as to why popular film critics are negative even about films they rate highly: because it’s easy to complain, even about good things. It’s easy to find fault, and more difficult to find praise, and people will unquestioningly listen to others.

Subtly sequeing into They Live, one of my few talents, I fucking loved this movie and immediately started kicking myself for letting so much time pass from having known about it and actually having seen it. A long time fan of what I thought was Duke Nukem’s original line, “It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of gum,” I discovered otherwise (although it is worded differently) a couple years ago and was interested. But the DVD was always $10 and I’m lazy and cheap and it was always, “Ehhh, maybe next time.” And I’m stupid. Luckily I watched Big Trouble in Little China, remembered how much I enjoyed the Escape films (or perhaps just the first one, looking back), and was bolstered to the ‘T’ rack of the scifi section.

They Live is a brilliant narrative given from the humble perspective of a pleasant drifter looking for work. He finds menial labor, friendship, and a small shantytown across the street from a church. Except all is not well, and the plot quickly goes from racing conspiracy to actual evidence of alien integration and takeover, the church being the secret base of the resistance, who has developed special sunglasses allowing one to see who is not human. Thus the drifter sets out to make things right.

A not to subtle statement on the American obsession with television and money, the true form of dollar bills revealed to be pieces of paper with “THIS IS YOUR GOD” printed on them, John Carpenter’s They Live isn’t about aliens. It’s about us, the impoverished and downtrodden, a real “Eat the rich” kind of movie. Artistic expression, free thought: concepts to be forgotten in the endless and trivial pursuit of promotions, nuclear family values, and of course wealth. You sort of feel like grabbing a shotgun yourself when the movie’s over.

And I love feeling that way. It’s so invigorating, gets my beaten-chested testosterone pumping, like it lets you know that you’re not the only one to feel less than subservient. The protagonist Nada’s new friend Frank is a helpful inclusion to that end. By his own words a “walk the white line” kind of person, Frank works his ass off, toes the line, and sends every penny he can back to his family. But in one of the best simple fight scenes in film history, Nada beats some revolutionary thoughts into him, forcing Frank to see the world that is, the world that made and kept him poor and starving. This so eloquently mimics how it feels to be surrounded by people who do absolutely nothing when you stand fervent and disorderly against unrighteous rule.

What I would easily call a massive achievement in not only a stick-it-to-the-man sense, They Live is a film I feel literally everyone should watch. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s heart-pounding, and most of all it’s real, it’s alive. Now to watch it again with black shades on to feel cool.

Trying Not to Get Lost

(a review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015))

(spoilers)

No greater satisfaction can come than from blowing up some bitch as she threatens to kill your family. I feel like I haven’t hated a movie in long enough; I should rectify that. But in the meantime I round out (for now) my Guy Ritchie section with a small-screen-to-large-screen adaptation of a spy series I had honestly never heard of before now, much like when Dark Shadows came out. Guess I’m too young. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a fresh, standalone action film with finely mixed-in comedy, drama, and romance. A very high energy film, you feel pumped up from beginning to end, even through Napoleon Solo’s suave one-sidedness. There was excellent characterization by the two leads, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, every word and action nuance bricks building a larger structure. You can’t help but be involved with the characters.

Other than that, I’m a veteran of buddy cop films of all genres, from the good (Lethal Weapon, 21 Jump Street, Bad Boys II) to the not so good (48 Hrs., Cop Out, Another 48 Hrs.), and that’s what this one: another movie with half of its friction derived from two people forced to work together despite their differences. There was bickering, pissing contests, more bickering…

Look, this was good. The action was great, the story was well done (although I will admit I had to rewind a couple times due to how quickly the dialogue shoots out at you), the acting was keen. It reminded me of a lot of the films I grew up on, and made me wish it had come out ten years ago so by this point I could have already watched it several dozen times.

Out Here in the Fields

(a review of Premium Rush (2012))

Bad stuff: For every movie this point forward which uses the song “Baba O’Riley,” I am going to murder someone.

Good stuff: Stop judging movies by their premises. I really don’t have much to say about this one, just that there was a significant amount of dumping on Premium Rush when it came out because “It’s a movie about bike messengers. Also I’m a tasteless, presumptive lepton.” But, it’s a really good movie, about bike messengers or whatever. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was amazing, Michael Shannon was amazing, and the plot was as fast-paced as possible to accommodate the lifestyles of the primary characters. An absolutely brilliant start to my day. I couldn’t have been happier, especially with the smug satisfaction of people being wrong in their assumptions yet again. Not that I am as of yet convincing very many people of my film critiques. Maybe I need to fight to prove I’m right.