Sunday, November 30, 2014

Big Hero 6

Disney Studios has moved from being stogy to contemporary in a few short years. Once upon a time they were fairy tale tellers with an occasional foray into cute. Now they seem to alternate with regularity between the classic Princess stories that they have told well for seventy years and the very modern stuff like "Wreck it Ralph" and "Frankenweeine". Last year was "Frozen" so we are due up for something non-traditional, the answer is "Big Hero 6".

Happy to say it is a winner although my admiration for it is tempered a little bit by some of the prejudices I have from many years of watching manga and anime from a distance. The story takes place in a future city San Fransokyo, which looks like San Francisco at first, and is even introduced with the standard ocean flyover shot of Fisherman's Wharf. Just like a "Dirty Harry" movie. As the town focuses however, it is a Hodgepodge of traditional S.F. sights and Asian influenced modifications. It's not clear if the whole town was bought by some corporation from Japan, or the universe is simply altered because of some population trend. That's always been one of my issues with this stuff, it is just enough like the real world to pull you in and then something out of left field shows up and changes things without any explanation. As a kid I liked "Astro Boy" and "Gigantor" but I knew they were off. "Speed Racer" worked for me as a film because nothing in it pretended to be real, it was all overdone. This movie does the same kind of thing. Our hero, who is named Hiro, is a genius kid who turns his nose up at using his smarts at anything as mundane as University Research. He then finds he loves the idea when his brother takes him on a tour, and tries to gain admission with a special project that will wow the engineering crowd. It does, and he immediately supersedes anything that everyone else is doing and we have no reason for him to get wrapped up in the University except the plot demands it. Just more of the stuff that makes no sense but that everyone in these media take for granted and just go with. I try to do that but sometimes it just nags at me and takes me out of the story.

There is a marvelous relationship built between the automated health care provider and the young boy Hiro. Even though Baymax never really develops any emotion, Hiro seems to provide enough for both of them. The fact that Baymax was programmed and slaved over by Hiro's older brother Tadashi, makes it poignant even though it is really mechanical. The idea of the health care robot is a bit absurd but it allows the character to sound as if he is emotionally invested despite it mostly being programming.  I guess if Will Robinson can grow such an attachment, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise can relate to "Data", we should be forgiving that the screen writers want us to do the same thing. There are still a lot of other elements that come together randomly which make the movie fun but also quite nonsensical. I enjoyed the conversion of Tadashi and Hiro's friends into a superhero team, but it happens so quickly and also with more brilliance than any University could have provided, that it still seems odd. It wasn't until two thirds of the way though and I accidentally noticed how many of them there were, that I suddenly got the title of the movie.

I will say that I could see the villain coming pretty early in the process, but it was not clear what the motivation was until a coincidence reveals it. That's another one of those things that threw me off, the accidental nature of all of this coming together. This is a movie that should be like "The Incredibles", with a background in technology and superhero worship, but it is missing the back story that made that movie work so well and the solutions come so fast that it rarely felt like the team was struggling. T.J. Miller completes a 2014 trifecta of clueless characters with a role as a slacker kid with a wish to be part of the nerd school and Alan Tudyk voices another Disney film after his turn in "Wreck it Ralph", this time playing a self centered Steve Jobs type character. Scott Adsit does a nice even voiced job as Baymax. I recognized James Cromwell's voice long before I remembered him and that scares me a little since I used to be a wiz at that kind of stuff.

This movie was very entertaining and I thought it looked great. There are concepts in the story that worked and a few that don't. This is not going to be a classic that everyone will remember as their favorite film from youth, but it will make a lot of film goers happy and what more do you want from a cartoon imitating a manga style comic? 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Well it was a sad Saturday this weekend. In addition to the mediocre effort put in by my team against their arch rivals, Katniss and Company played at only a slightly higher level. "Mockingjay Part 1 will not leave a stink in the room the way our coach did on the field, but it will be a good argument to stop splitting up books and turning a series of three into a series of four or more. [Oh, and the same might be said for turning one book into three movies, but we will have to see how that comes out next month.]

Abandoning most of the science fiction elements found in the original story and films, the new "Hunger Games" movie becomes a political science paper aimed at discussing the roots of revolution. The idea of Katniss as the face of a revolt, fomented by the previously unknown forces from District 13, is straight propaganda analysis. The committee evaluation of the video prop piece she completes encapsulates this whole movie.   Why is she an inspiration and why is she not working as one in our film? Jennifer Lawrence has been very good in the previous "Hunger Games" movies, but she is less natural and interesting in this movie than she has been in anything I have seen her in. Most of this is because she has become a pawn, like she was in the original stories, but this time the action is controlled by a group of mundane cave dwellers who's motives seem to be a bit murky. She is not called on to use her wits or overcome an obstacle, she is a piece of agitprop set decoration for a larger conflict. 

Much of the weakness in the film is directly from the weaknesses of the novel on which it is based. "Mockingjay was a limp ending to a young adult trilogy that simply ran out of steam and ended as quickly as it could. The Tributes from the first two stories are put on the sidelines while the revolution plays out between rebelling colonies and the Capital. There were some hints of the problems the rebels had wielding power in the novel. The prep team is abused and the citizens are required to live a regimented lifestyle that would deny them even the most mundane pleasures. The Castro like character of President Coin is hardly suggested in this film. All of the interesting elements of a not very interesting book are taken out when transferring it to the screen. The action in the film is limited to three or four moments when CGI battles are carried out with Katniss as the star of a recruitment commercial.

The strengths of the movie are in some unusual places. Elizabeth Banks as the frivolous Effie Trinket, gets to make a few comic moments zing without having to rely on over the top costuming and make up. Woody Harrelson's  Haymitch character is missing for most of the movie, but every time he shows up, the movie got better. The best piece of casting and the most accurately realized character is Donald Sutherland as President Snow. It is perhaps unfortunate for the movie that the highlight of the film is a skype session between Snow and Katniss at the end of the movie. Their interaction has more sparks in it than anything else that takes place in this two hour place holder.

With a nice dedication at the end of the movie to their co-worker who has passed, the film should be a fond reminder of Philip Seymour Hoffman and his talent. Watching his performance however foreshadows the plight he faced. He looks tired and flaccid in the part and there is no energy or personality in Plutarch Havensbee. His co-star from almost two decades ago in "Magnolia", Boogie Nights" and "The Big Lebowski" Julianne Moore, is a little better. As the calculating leader of District 13, she is impervious and distant in the way called for by the plot. Liam Hemsworth continues to be little more than a plot device to keep Katniss from accepting her devotion to Peeta. Gale gets some action scenes in the movie but he does little except move through the scenery.

The movie looks good and the characters are given a chance to continue their story. The problem is that the story is losing steam as it becomes less about our heroic Tribute and more about the political intrigues of Panem. The hallucinatory gas attacks and the city destroying matrix that were parts of the book are no longer present. Faceless citizens revolt in the lumber and energy districts and a jingle is all we have to show their commitment. This movie will be a box office smash, but it will not be a treasured volume in the "Hunger Games" canon.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Edward Scissorhands

Once upon a time, movie goers embraced Tim Burton and his mildly weird vision of the world.  It was a time of wonder when Michael Keaton and Johnny Depp were fairly new to the world and the cynics and haters did not assume that a movie would suck because Burton had cast them in another one of his movies. It was a time when Danny Elfman found a musical voice in the world of Tim Burton and angry mobs did not march the corridors of the movie complex looking for tomatoes to throw. Like the fable I just shared with you, "Edward Scissorhands is a gentle parable on tolerance, if it were made today audiences would yell"sellout" and then post snarky comments on "Twitter".

I'm going to look at this as if it were 1990 all over again. A movie trailer would bring a tear to your eye rather than a snort through your nose. This movie is so whimsical and sweet that it would be advisable to check your blood sugar before you start watching it. It is almost so sweet that you forget what a bitch Kathy Baker's character was and you can overlook the fact that the sad eyed innocent of the story kills the rival for his love interest. Instead, everyone's memory will be of the kitschy topiary, the pastel colored houses and clothes and the dreamy version of Johnny Depp when his tattoo did not say "wino forever". We will recall how chipper Diane Wiest's Peg is and how beautiful it was when Winona Ryder spun around in the snow made by Edward as he turned to ice sculpture in his frustration.

This was a Christmas time release, it is a cult hit of course but, it might have had a bigger box office start if it did not open the same week as "Home Alone". I recall the topiary from the movie being featured on the medians of Beverly Hills during the holiday season. This was a movie made for date nights and sentimentalists and driving through the richest shopping areas in the world at the time, the presence of leafy tyrannosaurs and dancing ballerinas just seemed the right way to draw attention to an offbeat love story during the season. Whereas we once embraced the oddball character at the heart of the movie and his cinematic progenitor, today we look at them the same way the citizens of the cul-de-sac from the movie did. What we loved we are now embarrassed to have taken to heart, and the guy with the wild hair (Burton not Edward) is viewed with suspicion.

My own kids can be pretty cynical at times but they are both nostalgic for this movie. This is one of the few of the AMC Classic Series that I could convince them both to go to. It so happens that I was able to bribe my wife into accompanying us and she of course has fond memories of the movie as well. Vincent Price was priceless in this his last role, and everyone one else did a terrific job being clueless, blind, hostile and befuddled all at once. Kathy Baker did the sultry lonely housewife bit with just the right amount of tartness thrown in. Alan Arkin is so clueless and says the most inane and wise things at the same time, he creates a template for characters he will play for the next twenty four years. Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder were just beautiful together. She was so popular at the time that she had a second film in the top ten the same week, "Mermaids". Edward is all naivete, wrapped up in leather with sharp objects for hands, no wonder he became a fetish item for shoppers at Hot Topic over the years.

This is an example of "they don't make em like that anymore" because the world has changed. Kids want to be empowered not misfit, they want passion not tenderness, and sweet in the views of most kids these days, is the territory of children's films. Maybe it's best not to listen to me, after all, I still like Johnny Depp, and I still like Tim Burton, and "Edward Scissorhands" is one of the few modern fairy tales that can warm my heart. I'm just a big marshmallow, and this movie roasts me over the fire still.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Last week I wrote a post about one of the inspiring teacher movies from the past. "Teachers" was pessimistic but still managed to find the sort of inspirational hope that movies like "Dead Poets Society" and "To Sir with Love" thrive on. "Whiplash" is another film about a teacher and a student that that aspire to reach heights of greatness, but it is a very different animal. Remove any thought of Mr. Holland and his music based heart affirming teaching methods. The process in this film would make old school football coaches like Vince Lombardi look like wimps.

Terrance Fletcher is a terrifying nightmare of a teacher. Like many monsters, he can appear benign and even avuncular at the moments he chooses. He talks sweet to a little girl, he passionately remembers a former student to his current students as he learns of that former students death. All of that is a mask for what he really is, a maniacal taskmaster with a standard of perfection that only he can fathom. All the members of his Jazz Band at the music conservatory that he teaches at know that monster. He never hides it from them, instead he unleashes it to bully the musicians into the exacting execution of  music that he hears in his head. He justifies the process he uses as a motivational tool to try and find the true musical genius he imagines will emerge from the forge of his personality. The story of Charlie Parker is mentioned several times as a template of sorts for the kind of transformative moment he is seeking.

Andrew Neiman is a student at the school, his passion is drumming and he crosses paths with Fletcher and he becomes possessed by the desire to reach that level of genius. The question becomes, how much does a person need to endure to live up to their potential? Andrew may discover talent that he would have a hard time reaching otherwise, but it will cost him a great many things. These two characters are played by actors who are basically living out the plot of the movie. J.K Simmons and Miles Teller have had to do something extraordinary to make this movie work. Teller must have devoted countless hours to playing the drums in a manner that would hold up the story of promise that needs to be pushed beyond the extreme. His dramatic skills are amazing but when combined with the technical drum wizardry he is tasked with portraying, the performance is awesome.

The monster is played by Simmons. What kind of actor's tools allow a man to shed his own ego and become something loathsome? Sometimes the script deceives you, maybe it is all about inspiring a musician to go beyond his best. "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'." This is his manifesto and he lives it. It doesn't hurt that he is a sadist of the first order who can't see the other point of view. When Andrew mentions the notion that the next Charlie Parker could be discouraged, Fletcher in his superior sounding attitude simply says "Charlie Parker would not be discouraged". This is the question begging answer of a sociopath. His cold eyes and stark dress and his manner of speaking should be a sign, like the rattle on a snakes tail, that something bad is going to happen. At the climax of the movie, that you can see anything other than the monster is a tribute to the quiet genius of this performance.

The movie is shot with a dizzying set of musical moments that build more tension than you can imagine. The close ups, fast cuts, and pacing of some of these moments, creates the type of anticipation that a great sports film or a classic thriller might develop. The dramatic moments work because the two actors are so effective. The temper tantrums that both of these men engage in could be laughable if you did not believe in the validity of their characters. Andrew has his charms but he is only slightly less horrifying than his mentor. The callous way he tosses out the one person who cares about him other than his father is an illustration of his ego as well. Two people who have little to give the world except their talent, make a fascinating duo. The story will screw with your head and you will doubt the common sense concerning human nature that you walked in with.  Greatness may have a price, and in this movie, the price is your soul.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hollywood Costume Exhibit

Hollywood Costume Exhibit
 So this afternoon, I spent a delightful couple of hours down at the future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, looking at the history and mystery of costume design. There are literally hundreds of costumes from the last hundred years of motion pictures. Imagine seeing the outfit that Charlie Chaplin created for his first Hal Roach films. Hanging from the ceiling in a horizontal position is Christopher Reeves version of the Superman costume. Dorothy's gingham dress and the Ruby slippers also make an appearance.

The exhibit makes use of extensive multimedia tools and the latest forms of computer digitized images. At several stops there is a tabletop display that features designs, scenes, and backstage information about the costumes and the pictures they are featured in. Sitting on either side of the table were high backed chairs that contained video screens featuring the director and the costume designer, as if they were have a conversation across the table with each other and with us. Quentin Tarantino and Sharen Davis discuss the Django Unchained costumes, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell marvel at how Daniel Day Lewis makes Bill the Butcher look both stylish and deadly when he dons her designs.

Several displays featured historical progress of costuming and discussed the nature of special effects, censorship and history on the clothes that the stars wear in the movies.  There was a selection of costumes that showed how the Queen of England has been depicted in films, from Bette Davis to Helen Mirren and a dozen other Queens as well. There was a look back at Westerns, and War Pictures as well as more contemporary films like the "Oceans Eleven" film series. Errol Flynn is crossing swords with Johnny Depp and Elizabeth Taylor and Claudette Colbert are vying for most glamorous version of "Cleopatra".

The use of teleprompters and holographic style images of the stars seemed to put the actors in the designs right in front of you at times. You enter though a short passage lined with the eight Oscars that Edith Head won, dramatically lighted with some background on the most famous costumer of all time. The exhibit hall is very dark so that the light on the costumes brings out all of the details and colors dramatically. It was a little tough for my vertigo inflicted spouse but she made it through without stumbling (the same could not be said for me).

My two favorite displays were the Indiana Jones deconstruction of the classic adventurer's wardrobe, and the dozen or so costumes worn by Meryl Streep,each of which was accompanied by a video screen with the marvelous actor discussing how the images came together with the characters. Each piece of Indy's ensemble was dissected for it's use in building the character as a functioning field archeologist and devil man care swashbuckler. 

Young film goers will be thrilled to see costumes from a dozen Superhero films, including X-Men, The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Captain America. Spider man was on the wall and I almost missed him. There was also an interesting review of motion capture work and James Cameron discussed how real costumes have to be created before you can digitally animate them such as was done in Avatar. Admissions cost is twenty bucks and parking is likely to run about twelve dollars. A real movie fan will feel that it was money well spent. How often do you get to walk the red carpet with the stars of Hollywood history, and get to find out who they are wearing without having to shout at them?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Batman (1989)

AMC is once again responsible for me missing new films in the theaters to revisit an old film that I loved. This week it is the Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson version of "Batman" directed by Tim Burton. It is twenty-five years after the movie opened, there have been three sequels to this series and a reboot version that had three films in it's history. A year and a half from now, we will be getting a Batman vs. Superman film. So it seems that Batman is all the rage. It was not always that way.

After the pop cultural phenomena of TV's Batman, the concept lay dormant for twenty plus years. The comic book world did not forget, but nearly everybody else did. When the project was announced, i read an analysis of character brands by popularity and the desire of advertisers to be affiliated with them. Batman was near the bottom of the list. When it was announced that Michael Keaton, who had just played a deranged ghost in Tim Burton's previous film, was cast as the caped crusader, the outcry was loud. And then a funny thing happened. The trailer you see above was put into theaters. It is actually kind of crude, it has no temp score, no voice of doom narration and there is not a story hook in sight. Despite all of it's failing, the trailer was a stupendous success. People were going to movies that the trailer was playing with, just to see the trailer [remember, no internet my friends]. The look of the movie, the malevolent smile of the Joker, and the much parodied but nonetheless iconic intro, "I'm Batman", lit a fuse that has not been seen much since.

As a cultural touchstone, the original Burton "Batman" was the last of a phenomena. There are certainly films, including super hero films, that have made a gazillion dollars and been exploited on tee-shirts and lunch boxes since this movie came out, but nothing reached the enthusiasm that this movie projected. The closest we've come in the years since have been the Harry Potter films, but it is not the same. The logo, the soundtrack, pictures and toys were overwhelming. On opening night, there were lines and parties. At the Orange Cinemadome that I went to for the opening night screening, there were beach balls bouncing around the geodesic shaped dome and the whole audience was doing "the wave" from front to back and then side to side. I had collected the trading cards like they were cash, and the popularity of the film lasted all summer. This was a four quadrant hit that brought in money at a rate that had never before been seen. Today, the first weekend take of fifty one million would look like a meager take, but in 1989 it was a record. The world is a different place now, multiple screens and advance shows are the norm. "Batman" created a world where that could happen. 

The film does not have the emotional heft of the "Dark Knight" movies of Christopher Nolan. Those films create a reality based vision of Gotham that is too real sometimes. Tim Burton's Gotham is all back alleys and overcrowded skyscrapers that expand as if they are pyramids turned on point. Even in the daylight the city is dark. All the gangsters and cops wear hats and the Mayor looks like Ed Koch. The batmobile from this movie is the car of every kids dreams. The tumbler from the Nolan films is practical and very cool, but it looks like a tank. This batmobile looks like a rocket with wings that might be flown by someone really scary or really cool. The color of the film pops at times in just the right ways to evoke the comics, but without becoming the neon and pastel joke that the Shumacher films became.

It will be an continuing debate as to whether Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson did the superior job in the role of the Joker. Ledger had a better writer but Jack had the better costumer and make up artist. Both rip into their parts with gusto. I was just surprised at how much I liked Jack's take on the material in this film. They are different universes and today, Jack Nicholson filled his version of it. I think I can say that Michael Keaton is the more fun Bruce Wayne. He is not tortured like Christian Bale's Wayne is. His pain comes from a different kind of psychosis and it is more fun to watch. Nolan's Batman may be a better action figure, but Keaton is the more likable alter ego.

Comparing Apples to Oranges is possible when you reduce them to their lowest common denominator, but why would we want to do that?  A glass of orange juice is perfect at the right time, and the fact that I had O.J. for breakfast, doesn't mean I won't want apple pie for dessert. Today I got to enjoy a 25 year old movie that made me feel for a few minutes like it was 1989 again, and everyone would be talking about this at school tomorrow.

St. Vincent

Frankly, I'd be willing to give up an Academy Award nomination to Bill Murray for the performance he gives before the opening credits are even finished. He has the look of this character nailed, there is a distinct accent that he uses without any hesitation, and the dance he does with himself to the jukebox music was worth the price of admission. I was sold on this movie almost instantly based on the character and the actor. It's pretty nice that there are so many other things going for it as well.

Vincent is an apparently unpleasant man, eeking out an existence on a reverse mortgage and occasional betting on the ponies.  He is in desperate financial shape but never seems to let it bother him too much. When the new neighbor ends up needing some after school supervision for her son, Vincent falls into the job. Yes this is a buddy picture and it is about the redemption of a character that seems irredeemable, but it is not exactly that.  The character never becomes less cantankerous than he starts out as. He still has all the flaws at the end of the movie that he does at the beginning. The story is unique because instead of changing the character, we are forced to change our perspective. We learn about the character through his connection with the nine year old boy he is taking care of. It may be a highly sentimentalized view but that is ultimately what this movie is, a sentimental view of someone hard to be sentimental about.

Vincent's attitude towards the rest of the world is not hard to understand. People let him down, they don't respond to him in any way that he can fathom and since he is semi-inebriated during most of the story, he can't really help himself. Oliver, the kid in the story, sees Vincent for what he is because he has no expectations and prejudices yet. The character is a smart kid but not much like those kids you see on a sitcom. He appreciates any effort that Vincent makes to help him, because he can't really believe anyone else will. Gambling, fighting and lying are not the lessons that most of us would want our kids to learn, but politeness and attentiveness are. Oliver learns from both positive and negative experiences with Vincent.

Since her sudden rise to success just a couple of years ago, Melissa McCarthy has become a punching bag for misogynists in the comedy world. There is a lot of hate that gets written about her and some of it may stem from the fact that the characters she has played were repetitive stereotypes. She tones it down here and plays a real human being in pain who is having a difficult time adjusting to new living circumstances. She never tries to upstage Murray, instead she delivers the comic lines in a normal manner that makes the movie seem more real than it could ever be. Naomi Watts does a lived in, hard life, unsympathetic, Russian immigrant persona as if she were made for it. My guess is that the make up work here is so subtle that it will not be noticed and instead people with think she got smacked down by her career.

The climax of the movie is another one of those presentations in front of an audience that seem to be typical in underdog stories. Like "About a Boy" from more than a decade ago, a public performance rescues a nasty character from himself. Bill Murray is no Hugh Grant. He is not lovable or cute. He is however one of the funniest men on the planet and a damn good actor. St. Vincent gives him a showcase for both talents. In my mind, he has met the requirement for performing miracles that would allow him the title status of this movie.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saw 10th Anniversary Release

Some how I managed to go a decade without seeing this or any of the sequels (of which there are six, they came out annually for six straight years). I had no intention of seeing it today either but when we went to see John Wick yesterday, the AMC theater had mini-posters to give out and I'm afraid I'm an impulse buyer.  My kid likes horror films, there was an early show at a discount price, and I had to ask myself "why are you avoiding this?"

The answer is that I am not interested in the "torture porn" version of horror that this movie seems to have launched. I have no desire to watch human suffering for pleasure. When gore or dismemberment are done in pursuit of a story, then I can get behind it, but a slow scene with detailed moments of painful suffering brought to us by the SFX wizards of movies does not attract me. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that at least as far as the first movie is concerned, this is not horror based but rather a thriller with horror elements. It turns out this movie was far less graphic than a lot of other films I have in my past, and the disturbing scenarios are played out largely off screen.

So I"m ten years late to the party and telling most of you something you already know, "Saw" is an effective, low budget thriller that is full of plot holes but survives on the tricky premise it is based on. A serial killer who has the brains to engage in elaborate puzzles that lead to self inflicted death seems to be a stretch.  Most serial killers that are featured in film and television could qualify as geniuses and may be able to earn a doctorate at MIT. None of them seems close to the real life monsters that John Wayne Gacy, Angelo Bouno and Kenneth Bianci, or Richard Ramirez. The best character of a serial killer was Hannibal Lecter and he even he did not engage in the complicated "game-playing" that seems to be required of every new entry in the genre. Still. it is a movie only, and the idea of a two character drama played out in a locked room has all kinds of things going for it. There is still a lot of material outside of the room that has to be dealt with, but the main focus is on the two victims and their efforts to solve the puzzle of their imprisonment.

Co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell matches up well with veteran Cary Elwes as the two men, chained in a room and prompted to betray each other while at the same time trying to help each other. Elwes gets some pretty trite dialogue to spout, but he does it convincingly and in the last quarter of the movie, his desperation feels real. "Adam", Whannell's character, seems more genuine and the performance is much more solid from the get go. Danny Glover as the obsessed detective ends up chewing too much scenery in the final third of the film. Before his character goes off the rails, he seemed to be part of a legitimate police procedural. In a rush to wrap up the story, too many silly things have to happen.

To be honest, the most hard to watch scene for me was Adam's search for a clue in the toilet next to where he is chained up. A similar scene in "Trainspotting" is actually more vomit inducing. The kills are also not worse than any slasher film featuring Jason, Freddy, or Michael Myers.  All of "Jigsaw's" previous killings are only partially shown and the toilet scene was the one incident in the movie that the director seemed to linger over. The dramatic scene with the saw is much more implied than shown and the movie makes the right choice in avoiding becoming a gore fest, although the posters, trailers and other promotional material sell it that way. I don't know that this choice will be sustained in the other pictures in the series.

I'm not sure I will ever see any of the sequels. It seems unlikely that the simplicity of the concept will sustain itself for long before the need to satiate the morbid demand for audience shock begins to outweigh story considerations. I have to admire the execution of the plot and the direction of the film under modest financial circumstances. Some of the reviews from 10 years ago suggested that this was a vile film. Those comments were way over the top and in comparison to some of the things that have come after, Saw pales in the grotesque department. I appreciate special releases of older movies and the week that this was in theaters for Halloween was fine for me. Now next year, for the Fourth of July, could we please have the anagram version of this movie in theaters for a week to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of it's release. Seven days of Brody, Hooper and Quint chasing after a shark is at least as deserved as this this anniversary release was.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

John Wick

This has been the busiest October I can remember in years. A ton of stuff has happened and much of it was not good. As a result, I've fallen several weeks behind on the "30 Years On Project", and it has been three weeks since I went to a movie (my last two posts were a week late). That being said, when I finally did get a chance to see a film, I pigged out on a low brow action film instead of a high profile prestige movie. It was a very satisfying meal and the popcorn chaser was excellent, uhmm, I've missed popcorn almost as much as going to a movie. Keanu Reeves entertained us today in the revenge story of "John Wick".

I'm sure I've said this in some other post about a film with these sorts of characters, but it appears that the most in demand job is not physical therapist, engineer, or administrative professional. According to the movies, professional hitman is the career of the decade and Keanu as John Wick happens to be the most dangerous. The storyline has him retired and grieving his lost wife. He manages to feel some hope because she has left him a puppy to help him get through his mourning. Dumb-ass Russian gangster types make the mistake of both stealing his prized Mustang, but killing the dog as well. That may be a spoiler if you have not seen the trailer, in which case I'm sorry, but I think everyone headed into see this, knows that Wick is pulled back into his vocation by the injustice of this act.

Earlier this week, I invented a quote to use in my class for an Impromptu speech topic, "Never trust a man who doesn't love a dog." I know I can't ever forgive Michael Vick and while I don't dislike people who don't care for dogs, I do not understand them. An addendum to the invented quote should also be "Don't ever screw with another man's best four legged friend." Dirty Harry got downright nasty when someone kicked his dog, John Wick goes even further, the Russian mobsters go down like [insert tasteless cheerleader joke here]. I'd like to see this again, just to engage in my own tally of dead crooks that Wick leaves in his wake. I know that a dozen get killed in the first main confrontation, and that is only twenty minutes or so into the movie. This is the sort of over the top violence fantasy that can only exist in a movie that is not really all that good but is as entertaining as hell. If I ever have the time, I might try to reproduce the splendid statistical analysis my on-line friend Dan Fogarty did on the Schwarzenegger classic "Commando". Wanton death on a scale like this deserves it's own special kind of foolish attention.

There are a host of actors in the film that are almost always a welcome addition to a movie. Ian MacShane, John Legazamo and Willem DeFoe all lend a hand to make this a little better than it has any right to be. We also enjoyed the fact that the guy who plays "Mayhem" in all those insurance ads that run during college football season, got a chance to have a few more lines, even though in the end, he gets treated a lot like he does in those ads. Michael Nyqvist, the guy who is the journalist hero in the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" films (the Swedish Originals), is the main Russian mobster in this movie, it is his son who does the stupid crime that sets off  mobster killing time. He also does a pretty good job being a loathsome character that deserves what he gets.

If you are a regular reader of this site, you know that I am a sucker for revenge based films. Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington have lead the way in the last few years but I'm happy to add Mr. Reeves to the pool of killers of miscreants that I enjoyed spending time with. I may be one of the few people to see "47 Ronin" much less actually like it. This role requires the deadpan delivery and mopey expression that Keanu Reeves is known for. He also gets to use the physical skills that he has been employing for the twenty years since "Speed" made him an action hero. There is not any subtlety or surprise in anything that happens in this story, but it is efficiently told and cathartic for all of us dog lovers who would like ten minutes with Mr. Vick tied to a chair and a baseball bat in our hands. It is a fantasy, not a serious film and that's exactly the sort of stuff I was in the mood for.