Friday, August 30, 2013

Mish Mash 5 (On the Line, The Juror, G.I. Jane, Rumble in the Bronx, Hard Rain)

Another mish mash so soon?  Yeah, why not?

1.       I couldn’t help myself and saw On the Line starring active at the time ‘N SYNC members Lance Bass and Joey Fatone.  I was expecting not only a disaster based on who was in it but also extreme awkwardness because Bass is gay and here he has to play a guy who falls in love with a girl.  When this movie was made he hadn’t come out yet so I wondered if that would play into this at all.  Sadly it didn’t.  Bass turned out to be an ok actor.  He’s not good really, but he certainly got the job done just fine.

The film itself is your usual romance chick flick with the guy searching for this girl that he met on the train but never got her name or number.  Since he has nothing to go on he makes flyers describing the encounter and posts them all over Chicago (this picture sucks Chicago’s dick so hard).  Bass clearly didn’t think ahead because he’s shocked when a million women respond.  It’s a bad movie and at times put together pretty poorly.  But it’s just average bad and not anything special.  Oh well.

2.       Over the years I’ve seen most of The Juror a couple of times but I wasn’t sure if I ever saw the ending.  I couldn’t remember it so that means I probably didn’t.  Well the other night I finally manned up and kept with it ‘till the credits.  Now the whole thing is set in New York (mostly upstate) but somehow the last ten or fifteen minutes take place in a Mayan temple in Guatemala.  How the fuck did we end up here?  Once this started happening I knew for sure I had never seen this part of the movie ‘cause I would’ve remembered this shit.  It’s so unbelievably out of place from the rest of the two hour picture. 

There was absolutely no reason to end in Guatemala either.  They very easily could’ve tweaked things to have a showdown in another part of the U.S. like Texas or Seattle of some shit.  But ancient Mayan ruins in Guate-fuckin’-mala?  Who the hell approved that script and why did they think it was vital to have the story end there?  I’ll admit I like it though.  It was such a left turn that I was absorbed by the sudden drastic change in setting.  I was very intrigued about where this was headed and if there were going to be more surprises.  Boy, that was such a goddamn strange choice.

When it’s all said and done The Juror isn’t a great movie.  It has some fun moments and Alec Baldwin plays a pretty dark figure but it’s nothing to write home about.  Oh wait, I think I kind of just did that.  Shit.

3.       Speaking of Demi Moore movies (she stars in The Juror), I finally saw G.I. Jane the other night.  It’s alright.  I liked a bunch of that training shit but it was also really cheesy.  The whole thing unfolds exactly how you think it will with one exception: the ending.

Man was this film anticlimactic.  I thought Moore was going to get thrown in a situation where she gets caught by foreign enemies, fights her way out of it, kills a lot of dudes, rescues her squad and they escape to freedom.  But instead it ends with her just formulating some plan to save the master chief that barely works out.  She doesn’t really kick a lot of ass or do anything that makes her an exceptional soldier (at least among Navy SEALs).

On top of the lackluster finale the whole firefight sequence that closes this thing out was shot unbelievably poorly.  I mean this is some of the worst filmed action I’ve ever seen.  And I’m not just saying that willy nilly.  I really mean it.  All the fucking snap zooms in and out, the camera shaking, the quick cuts, the obvious lack of choreography, the total confusion of who’s where and what’s actually happening…holy shit…it was such a goddamn fucking mess.  Equate it to whatever you want (a group of monkeys, ten year olds, blind people, etc.) with who was in charge of putting this together.  It won’t change the fact that it exists.

But to end on a good note, the fight between Moore and Viggo Mortensen (Daylight) is fucking great.  They really kick the shit out of each other.  That was my favorite part of the picture.    

4.       I wonder why Jackie Chan and company decided to go for an R rating with Rumble in the Bronx.  They very easily could’ve left out two of the three “fucks”.  Maybe the guy getting thrown in the wood chipper off camera was part of it too?  I dunno.  I don’t really get it.  It’s such a light R.  It could be that since this was going to be Jackie’s first big film in North America he wanted to start off on a seemingly edgy foot.  You know, get people interested with the fireball filled poster and the rating and then when you have their attention show ‘em some incredible martial arting.  They’ll be so captivated that they’ll stop looking for a harder movie than the one they really made.  Whatever it was it worked and established Jackie in North America for the foreseeable future.    

5.       Another film I finally got around to was Hard Rain.  This was an obvious attempt by Christian Slater to repeat the magic of Broken Arrow.  He got the same writer (Graham Yost who also wrote Speed and Speed 2: Cruise Control) and put himself in the starring role.  He even produced this thing further ensuring that the final product would be as Broken Arrow-y as possible.

His character, Tom, is essentially the same guy in the same position as Hale from Broken Arrow.  Tom’s an armored car guard and his truck gets held up.  He takes the money and hides it while he battles the bad guys.  Then when the money ends up in the bad guys’ hands Tom has to go retrieve it.  Oh yea, and all of this takes place during a torrential downpour that has flooded an entire town.

I like the idea of a town being flooded and the water constantly rising so that it ups the ante every so often.  I guess they used that angle to full effect with a couple of moments of near drowning, boats and jet skis are ridden, giant waves of flood water knock people over, the power goes out, one dude gets electrocuted, large debris like trees smash into things, and so on.  I can’t really think of something obvious they should’ve done with the water that they didn’t.

Overall, it ain’t no Broken Arrow.  The script is kinda weak, the casting isn’t the greatest (with the exception of Morgan Freeman as the bad guy), the action is solid but not terrific and, disappointingly, it’s not directed by John Woo (although apparently he was going to).  It’s not a bad movie but it’s pretty forgettable.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

To the Wonder

This one reminds me of an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 joke that I’d like to dust off: “Seems like they forgot to have things happen in this movie.”  So let’s take a quick look.

Story?  Uhh, a guy (Ben Affleck (The Voyage of the Mimi)) invites his French girlfriend (Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace))to live with him in Oklahoma…and…they’re in love but they fight a bunch…and then she goes away for a while…and then the guy falls in love with another woman (Rachel McAdams (The Hot Chick))…but they break up and the French girlfriend comes back into the picture…there’s also this priest (Javier Bardem (Collateral)) who’s losing his faith in God and Jesus and religion ‘n’ shit…and…uhh…whatever.

Acting?  It’s fine I guess.  Everyone goes through a range of emotions and they all pull it off well enough.

Dialogue?  There’s very little.  There’s more whisper talking narration about love and all that than dialogue.  It’s almost a silent movie the way this is presented.

Cinematography and production?  It’s your usual Malick type deal with lots of nature, people staring, walking and playing with each other, etc.  There’s no real form or structure to any of it.  And of course it’s beautifully shot and edited together with a nice score.    

Here’s where I’m coming from in case you guys don’t know how I feel about Terrence Malick.  Generally speaking I love his films.  They’re some of the most stunning and challenging pictures I’ve ever seen both in terms of story and production.  The New World is my favorite of his (although I have a feeling that Voyage of Time could replace that) and also one my favorite films of all time.  I’m not afraid to admit that I have a huge goddamn crush on his filmmaking style.    

So to an extent I’m gonna like pretty much anything that Malick comes out with.  The way he makes movies just does it for me.  This is no exception.  I really like the way parts of this thing are put together.  However, this one is unfortunately his worst film so far.  It’s aimless.  We’re shown all of these images of this couple loving each other, then hating each other, then loving each other and so on but there isn’t a lot of substance to it.  Even though I spent almost two hours with these characters I feel like I don’t know them.  Is Ben Affleck really an asshole or is it all Olga?  She’s conflicted about her love for Ben but is she also kinda crazy?  The thing is we learn so little about these characters that you could project almost anything you want onto them.  I don’t think that’s supposed to be the idea.  It seems like they’re supposed to be complex people but it doesn’t come off that way.  Everything about the story and the characters just isn’t interesting.

It’s really a shame that this is such a weak effort.  Not even Malick’s incredible filmmaking could save this one.  Story-wise there’s so little to grab onto and get engaged in.  Malick goes too deep with his own style and ends up folding in on himself.  The Tree of Life started down that road but didn’t fully commit.  It’s weird but that picture seems a little more grounded.  To the Wonder floats off into the ether.  Questions that Malick may or may not be posing about love and religion get lost in the meandering.

If you like abstract and arty as fuck movies then you’ll probably dig this.  If you like Malick you also might dig this.  But if you felt that The Tree of Life was pushing your boundaries then this will take you over the edge.  I still love the man’s style, which means that after all the shit talk I laid down there’s a part of me that kinda likes this film a bit.  Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?  I dunno.  But it sure is possible to have too much Malick.  Sorry Terry, you’re the fuckin’ man but I just wasn’t all that into this one.     

Monday, August 12, 2013

L.A. Takedown

This is the original incarnation of Heat.  Michael Mann wrote, produced and directed both of them.  So what are the major differences?  Oh boy there are a lot.

Takedown was a made for TV movie back in the late 80’s so it looks really cheap (as opposed to today where those things look much closer to theatrically released films).  I mean even with a competent director in charge there’s no shaking the constraints that come with a fairly small budget and a tight shooting schedule.  They shot this thing in only two to three weeks which means they had to work fast.  Mann also had to shoot most of it in the daytime to save money and go inside for a lot of the nighttime scenes. 

They seemed to allow themselves two extravagances however.  One was to shoot in many locations.  Only a couple of sites are reused for multiple scenes.  And while that does help the cheapness factor it doesn’t cover it up.  The other is the bank heist scene and subsequent shootout.  This is the centerpiece of both versions so they made sure to set aside some extra cash for that part.  But while the heist itself is handled just fine the firefight and pursuit looks trite and is handled clumsily.  It’s not done in anywhere near the captivating and precise manner in which Mann would execute that kickass scene in Heat

The next huge change is that this is only 90 mins long.  That’s about half the length that Heat is.  While I think you could probably make the idea for the film work alright in maybe a two hour running time, 90 mins is not enough.  More than anything I’m just used to all of the shit that’s in Heat so when it’s not there I miss it.  Heat doesn’t feel unnecessarily long to me.  I love getting to know all of the characters and it’s important that we care about them when shit goes down.  In Takedown there isn’t enough time to get to know anyone except the main good guy (Vince) and bad guy (Patrick (in Heat he's called Neil)).  And even then it doesn’t feel like we spent enough time with them. 

All major events occur here like the opening armored car heist, the bank robbery and shootout, the hero and villain meeting face to face in a coffee shop, etc.  It’s the development of just about all of the characters (except the two mains) and the ending that’s dramatically different.  In Heat Neil (De Niro) kills Waingro in his hotel room and then gets pursued by Vince (Pacino) into an airport field where he gets gunned down.  In Takedown Waingro blasts Patrick with a shotgun at the hotel killing him.  Vince then kicks Waingro out a window where he falls to his death.  It’s really unsatisfying.  As uninteresting as the final confrontation between Vince and Neil is in Heat at least they face off against each other.  Takedown robs you of that and turns Waingro into the main villain at the last second.  That’s kind of a shitty way to end your best-damn-L.A.-cop vs. best-damn-thief-in-the-world big time crime story.

What just might trump all of the differences between the two though is the acting.  Everyone in Takedown does a fucking terrible job.  All of the line reads, the looks on their faces, everything is goddamn atrocious.  Ok, it’s not like Troll 2 or Gone With the Pope bad (actually there are a couple of lines where it is) but it’s just surprising because Michael Mann directed this.  He’s usually able to get some good performances out of his actors.  It’s hard to believe that either these were the best actors they could get or that these were the best takes the actors could deliver.  It also doesn’t help that most of the dialogue is the same between this and Heat so we know how cool it can sound and how fuckin’ awesome these performances can be with the right actor.

I will mention that Xander Berkeley (the step dad from T2) as Waingro is probably the only person in this that does a decent acting job.  He’s actually memorable and somewhat believable as a crazy killer.  Kevin Gage (Blow) is great in Heat with his version but I kinda like how Berkeley is unassuming.            

Alright let’s sum this shit up.  The story and characters are bigger than a made for TV movie and Mann must’ve realized that.  After he did his next picture, The Last of the Mohicans, he then jumped into reworking Takedown into Heat.  The flow in Takedown feels rushed like crazy.  The film doesn’t take its time with any aspect.  The dialogue is spit out at a frantic pace, the plot changes fairly rapidly and we don’t get enough time to dig into the characters.

This is almost like a fan made film of Heat.  It kinda feels like a group of friends loved Heat so much that they wanted to recreate it.  But they didn’t have the money or the time to do the whole thing.  So they made an abridged version and only kept the parts they felt were integral to the core story.  At times it feels that amateurish.

I’m glad Mann went ahead with a remake because Heat’s fuckin’ great.  He knew he had something good on his hands and that it didn’t get the treatment it deserved.  If you’re a big Heat fan this is worth checking out just to see the genesis of the idea and how much it evolved over the six year period.  If you’re a casual fan then there’s no need to see this.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tin Men

Tilley (Danny DeVito (Batman Returns)) and BB (Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)) get into a car accident.  Each claims the other is at fault and so a feud begins.  They try to get back at each other by smashing their rival’s cars with some success.  But then BB takes it a step further by sleeping with Tilley’s wife Nora (Barbara Hershey (Falling Down, Black Swan)).  He thinks that’ll end it but the thing is they end up falling in love.

That’s the general story.  There’s a bunch more going on during all of this.  Tilley and BB sell aluminum siding (the shit you cover the outside of a house with; somewhere along the way I think vinyl replaced the aluminum).  They’re scam artists though that use gimmicks in order to sell their product.  Apparently few people are actually interested in covering their house in aluminum.  BB pretends to be from Life magazine and tells the homeowner that their house could be in an issue if they put the siding on.  Tilley gives jobs away for free and then has his partner go in later to give a bullshit story about how Tilley’s boss will fire him if he gets wind of this and that he’ll be thrown out onto the street.  In effect they guilt the guy into buying the siding.

These numbers that the salesmen pull are illegal and the Home Improvement Commission has just been set up in order to stop this type of behavior.  The threat of getting caught and having their licenses to sell aluminum siding taken away looms constantly throughout the picture.  Tilley also has to contend with the IRS because he didn’t pay his taxes.  So there’s a whole shit storm coming down on these guys, although Tilley is definitely getting it worse.

What’s so great about this film is that the characters and most of the dialogue feel real.  These are just some working class folks that are trying to earn a living and stay afloat as best they can.  The stress that life piles on is enormous and you can understand why BB and Tilley act a little crazy.  It’s amazing how Barry Levinson can make even the most mundane conversations engaging and also pretty funny (the scene where Nora and Tilley argue about going on a picnic is a good example).  You can imagine having or overhearing these exchanges on any given day in real life.

DeVito and Dreyfuss were cast perfectly in their roles too.  Tilley is the low man on the totem pole struggling to get traction with his sales and Devito fits that description just based on looks.  He’s a bit of an imbecile, a touch pathetic, can be a little hot headed and never thinks he wrong.  But Tilley isn’t that bad of a guy really.  Sure he’s kinda scummy in the way he sells aluminum siding but his life is falling apart and so naturally he doesn’t take it well.  It’s almost justified, almost.  DeVito is able to go from raging lunatic to amiable everyman so easily.  I think this is the best I’ve ever seen him. 

BB shares many of the same characteristics as Tilley but he’s more successful, at least financially.  Where Tilley struggles to sell siding BB has no trouble with it at all.  If he’s talking to you for longer than two minutes then he’s gonna somehow make you think that you need that damn siding.  He’s a bit of a loner and a big time ladies man.  He sleeps with a different woman every night and never got attached.  When he falls for Nora he has to adjust his life and that’s tough for him.  But like Tilley he always thinks he’s right, he’s not the smartest guy you ever saw, he’s hot headed and a little pathetic because he can’t let go of this grudge with some guy. 

Dreyfuss pulls off this character in such a way that you might not realize he’s essentially the same as Tilley.  I didn’t even realize it myself until I started writing this thing up.  Dreyfuss can go from enraged to charming instantly like DeVito.  He also gives BB a certain ruthlessness that you can tell Tilley doesn’t have and maybe this is what has made BB more financially successful.  Again, like DeVito I think this is Dreyfuss’ best performance.  As much as I love Jaws BB is a more nuanced character than Hooper or even Roy from Close Encounters.  BB loves having sex with lots of women but realizes he wants to settle down, he loves selling aluminum siding but is thinking about getting out of it, he wants to get even with Tilley but knows it won’t end well, etc.  You can tell he’s thinking the same thing the audience is sometimes but just can’t help acting like a jerk anyway.

Entire films could’ve been made about each of these characters.  Both sides of this story are equally fascinating and appealing.  To put the two together is risky because you might not think each gets an appropriate amount of time to tell their side.  But intertwining the stories only paints a stronger picture overall.  Having these two interact with each other is important to the development of the characters and the plot.  To see both sides simultaneously shows how silly the situation is and turns dramatic events like a car accident, an ongoing intense dispute and a love triangle into humorous ones.       

The whole movie is very endearing and funny without trying that hard.  It all flows so organically and somehow manages to pull off a heartwarming ending even when Tilley is at his lowest point.  You have faith that these two may have finally stopped going at each other’s throats and could possibly be friends.

Even though this takes place in 1963 Baltimore the story is timeless.  You could have any type of salesmen in any time period and it would work.  But at the same time this film also works as a tribute to the early 60’s and to the now extinct profession of the door to door aluminum siding salesman.  There’s one eye on the past and one eye on the future (the Home Improvement Commission) and they work harmoniously together to give you a great snapshot as well as an enduring tale of love, revenge, downfall and eventually contentment.

It’s a shame that this one got swept under the carpet ‘cause I really love it.