Monthly Archives: November 2012

Some thoughts on ‘Flight,’ hardcore drugs, and “Denzeling” your way out of a movie

At the Mime this week, I sat down with Flight star Denzel Washington to discuss his (sorta) new movie.

Click through for an interview so exclusive it may or may not have even happened:

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Weekly Recap 11/18 – 11/24

So I ended up at a gay bar in NE Minneapolis this weekend. Lots of shirtless bartenders.

Movies!

11/18/12 Three Kings (1999)

I have mostly questions:

  • Is this a great looking film or what?
  • Why can’t David O. Russell quite balance dama, comedy, heist and wartime all in one gloriously bipolar package?
  • You think it’s a coincidence Three Kings can’t explain the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf either?
  • With all this blending of cultures — Americans speaking Farsi, Iraqis listening to bad American tunes — is David O. Russell suggesting this was a period where both sides ran around without direction? Like two nations solely comprised of headless chickens?
  • Is Clooney completely schooling his supporting cast here?
  • Why is this regarded as David O. Russell’s best effort?
  • Why did I go into this expecting David O. Russell’s best effort?
  • Isn’t that an unfair expectation?
  • Why hasn’t Spike Jonze acted since this?
  • Why has Ice Cube acted since this?

11/20/12 Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) 

A trip from New York City to Wichita to Jefferson City to St. Louis to Chicago is required isn’t it?

Well I sure as hell wasn’t revisiting Thankskilling. 

John Hughes isn’t afraid to show the grimy bunghole of every American town he frequents. There’s always a dingy back alley or a backwater redneck or jerky cab driver everywhere. That is, everywhere except Chicago, which forever holds a place in Hughes’ films as either magical and idyllic (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club) or as a safe retreats of familial protection (take your pick).

Hughes’ writing here is a real detriment, and its something the fantastic work from John Candy and Steve Martin successfully resist. I absolutely understand the conceit of this film is putting this pair through the wringer, but there too many artificial road blocks that are not only forced but telegraphed far ahead in advance. Yes, there’s an expectation from the audience that a Candy/Martin comedy is going to have its shenanigans. But since his premise is already Shit, my flight’s been delayed. Shit, the airport’s closed. Shit, our train broke down (i.e. developments that require nearly no creative thinking), Hughes could have put forth more effort and less time shoving shots of cigarette embers or a swapped Diners Club Card or a hotel room thief down our throats. Metaphorically speaking.

That said, there are some exquisitely staged and photographed two shots here — of course, right? — and I appreciated the effort that went into what’s so often phoned in with comedies; a few seconds of Del Griffith and Neal Page lugging a bulky suitcase across the snow; our dysfunctional pair looking bakc at a blazing wreck and a Chicago sign in the background; as featured above, the glint of a sunset through a bus window behind an impromptu a cappella rendition of “The Flintstones.” In moments like these, Candy and Martin really carry this film on their backs, even as Hughes’ direction veers into the absurd. We get it. Del’s an annoying pig. Excessive snores are more eye-rolling than hilarious or even amusing. Del’s soliloquy amidst the burned car wreckage as performed by another actor would come off as sappy or saccharine or trying too hard but Candy absolutely makes it work. It shouldn’t, but it does, and in spite of Hughes LITERALLY TELLING US WHAT A CHARACTER IS FEELING. That’s talent.

As a final note, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out the similarities to Home Alone:

  • Neal Page’s Chicago suburban home is the McCallister mansion
  • We’ve got appearances from Bill Erwin (as another airline personality) and Larry Hankin (Officer Balzak); and Candy himself was the Polka King of the Midwest if you’ll remember
  • The corny skeleton flashes as Candy and Martin speed out of control on the midnight interstate
  • And of course the obsession with family and all of its magical healing powers

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is certainly a good film, but almost in spite of its creator. As one who will trumpet the virtues of Lost in New York to his grave, I do not admit that lightly.

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Lincoln, Blinkin, and Nod Off: ‘Lincoln,’ reviewed

Words cannot describe my disappointment over Steven Spielberg’s latest.

Well now, that wouldn’t rightly be true. T’was more to my appeasement to voice this bountiful displeasure in the vociferous tongue of Mr. Kushner’s own manuscript. Proceed forth so we might thus exaggerate our conflagrations unanimously:

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My Buddy is a Cage – ‘Con Air’ (1997)

I don’t think Con Air is much of an action film. Of course it has the gigantic action set piece on the Lerner Airstrip. And then a ridiculously drawn out plane landing in the heart of Vegas. But the 60 or so minutes that come before that stuff? Bureaucratic paper pushing; prison heists; elements of a crime thriller; in the case of its opening minutes, 90’s romance cheese. Because how do I live without you?

Simon West’s directorial debut is a ballsy, all out fireball of a movie, and it’s bursting with absurdity, scenery chewing, and unevenness. Far and away the best part of Scott Rosenberg’s lopsided script is its big motley crew of prison baddies: Ving Rhames’ black nationalist Diamond Dog; Danny Trejo’s serial rapist Johnny-23; Steve Buscemi’s Hannibal Lecter pedophile Garland Green; And how could one forget John Malkovich as Cyrus THE VIRUS Grissom? Malkovich is so obviously enjoying himself here as I’d venture most of the prison plane’s passengers are. The lines are just too damn great not to sink your teeth into:

  • “Make a move and the bunny gets it.”
  • “For me, you’re somewhere between a cockroach and that white stuff that forms at the corner of your mouth when you’re thirsty.”
  • “Because if your dick jumps of your pants, you jump out of the plane.”
  • [Guard] “It smells like someone shit in your mouth.” “He told me he loved me.”

That last one, delivered with brilliant nonchalance by Dave Chappelle’s wily Pinball, might be terrible if it were delivered by anyone else. By contrast, John Cusack’s milquetoast Federal Marshal and his moments arguing with Colm Meaney are entertaining enough, but when West flips back and forth between DEA paper pushing and a cast of colorful death row inmates making shit jokes, are we really surprised when the former makes our eyes glaze over? And that’s not even including Con Air’s many exposition dumps. The most egregious might be its opening credit sequence, where Cage as Army Ranger Cameron Poe serves out a prison sentence for manslaughter. Layered over all the Executive Producers and the Story credits, Cage and his daughter, whom he’s never met, exchange in a clumsy, forced correspondence of written letters. I appreciate the film dumping this information in the most efficient way possible; less so anytime Cage refers to the wife as his humminberr in Southern voiceover.

Who can’t appreciate that mane? Rather than maintain his army buzz, Cage lets it all go and keeps up his physical regimen, serving time by bulking up in relative solitude. He does befriend Mykelti Williamson, but Williamson’s diabetic sad sack adds little outside of a cheap reason to get Cage to search frantically for an insulin needle. Compelling stuff. Cage’s Southern fried John McClane with his Alabama drawl is so over the top it actually fits right in when he’s surrounded by the plane’s hijackers. Never is this more true than in a particularly great moment in the plane’s cargo hold, where Cage is outed as a good guy saboteur to Cyrus’ plan and his daughter’s birthday present is temporarily held hostage:

You probably can make this stuff up.

A lot of Con Air is a messy, inconsistent jumble. The score is basically a combo of a dozen Marines commercials from the late 90’s, its tone is absurdly aggressive, and I fail to see how Cyrus can despise Trejo’s chain rapes but praise Garland Greene for wearing a little girl’s head like a hat. But I suppose I lost that battle as soon as I started to analyze a psychopath’s decisions. And despite all this, Con Air is a massively entertaining ball of crazy with lines that sound like they should be in a movie trailer, a who’s who of character actors, and a back half with more explosions than you can shake a bunny at. Cameron Poe takes pains to remind us he’s just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in Con Air? I’m not so sure there’s a movie Cage is more at home in.

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Fun but troubling. Froubling: ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ reviewed

Ladies and gentlemen, we may have cinematic proof that Disney is in cahoots with the Taliban. Unqualified, unverified proof!

I’m late to the party by about three weeks here, but that won’t stop me from claiming Wreck-It Ralph is a much better film than this summer’s Brave. Click on through and bring lots of quarters, infidels:

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My Buddy is a Cage – Astro Boy (2009)

Apart from the ability to point at a picture of Astro Boy and yell “That’s Astro Boy!” I know nothing about Astro Boy. But was this an animated series with a darker bent? Color me surprised when Dr. Tenma’s science whiz kid Toby (Freddie Highmore) bites it in a military weapons test gone awry — and doesn’t come back. Instead, Tenma (Nicolas Cage) constructs a life-like robot replica of his deceased son and enlivens him with powerful Blue Matter energy. I think that one’s way down on the Periodic Table. It’s a ballsy way to start your movie, and at that point I believed this whimsical cartoon boy was definitely not for kids.

Astro Boy looks gorgeous, with lush blues and idyllic cloudscapes, and all of which would look even better if a shirtless juvenile wearing colored underoos weren’t zipping in and out of cumulonimbuses — or cumulonimbi? Astro Boy also sports some of the better gags and humor this side of a non-PIXAR release, and like the opening dourness, they have a morbid tint. “I have machine guns in my butt” should be a terrible line, but it works thanks to Freddie Highmore’s delivery and dodgy American affectation. Of course, minor writing highs are brief respites from obvious character arcs. Kristen Bell’s orphaned tomboy will surely reunite with her above world parents just as Cage’s Tenma will surely repent and reunite with his outcast robo-son. The latter resolution is bafflingly hasty, inducing further groans with a character’s sighing proclamation that “Astro brought us all back together.” Astro Boy’s rich and populated universe, with its gladiatorial underground and the Robot Revolutionary Front, flourishes in spite of the boring people who fill it. Tough to imagine the original 60’s Japanimation series being this flat.

Cage’s voice work is an afterthought, lending further curiosity to his getting final billing in the opening credits over acting heavyweights like Donald Sutherland and Bill Nighy. Even though Tenma’s inexplicable and erratic development makes for one of Astro Boy’s more frustrating figures, Cage sounds tired and bored, and his readings are cold and unaffected. If you ever took turns reading Romeo and Juliet out loud as a class, you know of what I speak. By comparison, Sutherland’s President Stone is a delightful warhawk caricature, so hell bent on his reelection that when he merges with the film’s rampaging osmosis bot, he can’t help but mumble that a successful military campaign might boost approval ratings.

Director and Dreamworks Animation lifer David Bowers has a knack for visuals, constructing stunningly composed shots and majestic action effects. Someone should’ve smashed laptop though, because dramatic scribe he is not. This is a mashup of Pinocchio; A.I.; Iron Giant; I, Robot and even origins of RoboCop — a recycled scrap heap borrowing from predecessors and one that does nothing new; it just brags about its influences well, provided nobody opens their mouths. Astro Boy’s flat story and stock characters feel like they’re ruining a very complete, very pretty thing, like scrawling Crayola stick figures onto “Starry Night.” Damn shame if you were to ask the guy with a fleeting familiarity with the character.

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Weekly Recap 11/11 – 11/17

No you didn’t accidentally travel through time while microwaving that burrito. Today is in fact November 21st. Pardon the delay.

11/12/12 GoldenEye (1995)

As a disclaimer, I love Tina’s “GoldenEye” title theme; it’s sexy and has that Shirley Bassey class while not sounding as dated — maybe a little dated, though. That song’s writers, U2’s Bono and The Edge, are decidedly terrible teaming with composer Eric Serra. Cheap echoey effects sound like they were ripped straight from the “Beat It” video, and the litany of extra overproduced filler belongs on an old X-Files episode. 1995 never sounded so 1987.

Thomas Newman and Adele may have spoiled this generation of Bond fans, but Skyfall’s focus on 007’s irrelevance had already been done seventeen years prior. Judi Dench, in her debut as M, thinks Bond is outdated. Even colleague-turned-traitor Alec Trevelyan pokes fun at James’ one-liners and asks whether all the booze and sex drown out the screams of the people he’s killed. Definitely not a Roger Moore movie. Any time Sean Bean shares screen time with Brosnan, also in his debut here, my excitement is piqued. Their chemistry — which changes… shall we say halfway through? — is thrilling. However like nearly every non-From Russia MacGuffin, GoldenEye’s plot is boring and stupid if a bit Fight Clubbian in its philosophy; I appreciated Trevelyan’s plans to destroy British infrastructure, that the GoldenEye superweapon was only part of the plan. And Alec himself, Agent 006 and MI6 traitor, is a Red Grant for the 90’s generation.

Xenia Onatopp may very well be the best of the Brosnan Bond girls — yes, including Halle’s awkward turn as Jinx. Famke Janssen and her deadly thighs are a cheesy but sexy combination, and her misogynistic turnons are a nice touch, and a great echo of what has morphed into a very disturbing 007 stereotype: kiss kiss, bang bang, right? Good girl Natalya did nothing for me, doing little more than scream, fuck, and punch a few computer keys; she’s the epitome of the version of Bond that’s come before this and indicative of the character’s inherent problems. To make it worse, the script’s quadruple-teamed effort puts a magnifying glass above 007 and yet never burns him. Calling out James as a relic of the Cold War (in a film where Soviet conspirators are still villains) and then giving Bond license to tear through town on a tank is oxymoronic at best. GoldenEye shouts its high budget effects at you with wanton destruction and exploding set pieces that do little more than give characters a  playground to avoid or climb up or shoot at. Compared with Martin Campbell’s quick, slick pacing in GoldenEye’s excellent opening sequence, the rest is almost high treason.

And yet despite the weak writing, I pity Brosnan here as much as I applaud his ability to rise above bad material. More importantly (and more personally), I actually like him. Maybe it’s been long enough since Die Another Day. Or maybe it’s just the way he clicks that Walther PPK.

11/14/12 Spaceballs (1987)

I’ll be the first to trumpet my distaste of spoof and parody. That includes ‘How It Should Have Ended’ videos. I hate the suspension of disbelief those shorts try to rise above. Hey this isn’t real so why take it seriously? Better question: Why watch film if you can only enjoy it ironically? That mentality reminds me of Matt Zoller Seitz’s encounter with From Russia With Love in a Manhattan theater packed with young people. Kids these days.

Or maybe I’m just no fun? We’ll leave it to science for any conclusive answers.

As awe-inspiring as that Blockade Runner chase in A New Hope is, ya gotta love Spaceball’s opening gag with the mile-long ship. Too good. Pizza the Hutt is as amusing as he is obvious, but that’s an even break. I laughed out loud very little but I did enjoy it. And really, Spaceballs is not so much a Star Wars parody as it is a parody of pop sci-fi in general — Star Trek, Alien, Planet of the Apes. Brooks’ President Skroob epitmozies those real-ish elements of life that turn up in science fiction to an appropriately absurd degree: threesomes and ineptitude and greed.

Oh and Yogurt’s bit on merchandising? From where I’m sitting in 2012: prophetic.

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