Friday, May 27, 2016

Vision Quest

Year 8, Day 148 5/27/16 - Movie #2,347

BEFORE: There would have been a great opportunity to link from "Taken 3" to the new "X-Men" movie opening this weekend - that is, if Famke Janssen were still playing the Jean Grey character, which she is not.  "X-Men: Apocalypse" moves forward from the 1970's X-Men seen in "Days of Future Past" to the team of the 1980's, and in this timeline Jean is still a teenager, so Ms. Janssen has apparently aged out of the franchise.  

So, a new linking plan was necessary - Forest Whitaker carries over from "Taken 3", getting 30 years younger in the process himself.  

THE PLOT:  A high school wrestler in Spokane, Washington has trouble focusing on his training regimen when a worldly drifter takes up temporary residence at his home.

AFTER: I recorded this movie to put on a DVD with "Foxcatcher", but at the time I wasn't sure when I'd be able to circle back to the whole wrestling or boxing theme.  I don't think I'll be able to put all the boxing films together again, like I did last year - especially since premium cable is taking its sweet time getting "Southpaw" and "Creed" on the air.  But I do have another boxing film set for next week, so I guess I'm doing some now, some more later. 

Thirty years is a long time, Matthew Modine was 26 when this film was released, where he played a high-school student.  I've had the opportunity to meet him a few times, since he's recorded voices for a few of my boss's short films, and he and his producing partner are exec PRs on the animated feature we're working on now, "Revengeance" (the trailer was released this week on YouTube, please check it out if you get the chance).  Matthew's got a bunch more credits now, like for producing and directing his own short films, and he's got two adult children - hey, a lot happens in 30 years. 

But let's travel back through the mists of time to 1985, when MTV was a new channel, everybody had big hair and some of the boys wore more make-up than the girls.  As far as I can tell, this film was the first sports film that really embraced the music-video culture, since there are lots of shots of Modine as Louden Swain training - sure, by now the montages of Stallone (or whoever) working out to synth music are old hat, but where did that trend start?  Maybe right here.  

There's music from Journey, Sammy Hagar, Foreigner, Quarterflash, REO Speedwagon, Berlin and this crazy newcomer called Madonna - that kid's going places, I tell ya.  I found myself in the unique position today of trying to explain to a younger co-worker why, exactly, Madonna became famous - because it certainly wasn't for such meaningful songs as "Holiday" and "Lucky Star".  I ended up singling out the moment where she appeared on the MTV Video Awards in a lacy wedding dress, writhing on the floor as if she were pleasuring herself - yeah, that was probably it.  

My wife and I play this music trivia game we created, which we call "Butter Zone".  The goal is to find a song which the other person is forced to admit that they know, and you score a point when the other person can't name the singer or band they're hearing.  You can't score a point if the other person doesn't know the song at all, in other words - and it works on the honor system, largely.  There's a perfect "Butter Zone" song on this film's soundtrack, I just KNOW I've heard it on classic rock radio over the years, but I never knew who sang it.  To me, it sounds a lot like a Pink Floyd song, it's got the same driving beat as "Another Brick in the Wall", and it's called "Lunatic Fringe", which calls up images of songs from "Dark Side of the Moon" like "Brain Damage".  And it starts with weird footsteps and ends with police sirens, so it's got that feel like a soundscape stage-play, like so many Pink Floyd songs, like that one with the phone operator trying to make an international call at the end. ("Young Lust")

Over the years I've naturally assumed that it was a Floyd song from an album I just wasn't familiar with, like "Division Bell" or something.  And you can't really search for a song if you don't know its name AND you're not sure what band recorded it - it's not like you can go into a record store and say, "You know, the song with the police sirens at the end, and it's got the background singers going whoa-OH-oh-oh..."  Anyway, the song "Lunatic Fringe" was recorded by the band Red Rider, and written by Tom Cochrane, who would go on to sing "Life Is a Highway" years later.  Give it a listen and maybe you'll hear why I thought it was Pink Floyd.

Anyway, these songs play while our wrestling hero is exercising, trying to lose weight - now, I don't understand much about wrestling, at least not this non-WWE kind, but it seems like Louden's doing pretty well in his weight class, but he feels like it's not enough of a challenge.  So he goes on this "Vision Quest" (the tie-in with Native American culture feels really forced, but at least it produces a cool title for the film...) to drop two weight classes, so he can take on the toughest wrestler at another high-school.  Hey, it's good to have goals, maybe he's just looking for a way to prove himself.

But the story just wouldn't work if he were trying to gain weight.  Because then we wouldn't have the cool training montages, we'd just have Journey songs playing while a guy's sitting in a diner, stuffing his face, am I right?  Meanwhile, he and his father take in this drifter woman, and spending time with her naturally causes an attraction to form, even if she's a couple years older.  Oh, if only there were some form of exercise which she could help him with, that would help him burn some calories!  

And the girl's very important to the plot, also, because without her we might wonder if Louden, umm, plays for the other team.  Remember, it's 1985 and we're still not fully comfortable with that sort of thing.  Just because a guy engages in a sport where there's a lot of physical contact with other men, and his wrestling partner gives him rides home on the back of his motorcycle, and a guy in a hotel room grabbed his junk that one time, that doesn't make him gay, OK?  God, why do you always have to label people like that?  

In addition to being the first movie role for Madonna, it was the first role for Linda Fiorentino, who's not one of my favorite actresses.  Why?  Because she shows NO emotion at all, she delivers every line of dialogue in a flat, dull tone.  Consider that Madonna, in her 30-second appearance as a nightclub singer, displays ten times the emotion that Ms. Fiorentino shows in the entire film.  I'm just sayin'.  I mean, a lot of the dialogue here is extremely simplistic, and it sure isn't helped by flat readings from some of the actors.

Also starring Matthew Modine (last seen in "Jobs"), Linda Fiorentino (last seen in "Unforgettable"), Michael Schoeffling (last seen in "Sixteen Candles"), Ronny Cox (last seen in "Murder at 1600"), Harold Sylvester, Charles Hallahan (last seen in "The Thing"), Daphne Zuniga (last seen in "The Fly II"), Roberts Blossom (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), J. C. Quinn, Frank Jasper, with cameos from James Gammon (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Madonna (last seen in "Evita").  

RATING: 4 out of 10 nosebleeds

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Taken 3

Year 8, Day 147 5/26/16 - Movie #2,346

BEFORE: Liam Neeson carries over for the last time, and as you see, I had no shortage of options for Father's Day films - "Boyhood" would have been another acceptable choice, and the whole impetus in the "Taken" films is a man protecting his daughter, so this would have qualified also.  And I'm planning to watch another film this weekend that's all about a father - so, it's kind of a month-long build-up to Father's Day this year.  I should probably make plans to go up to Massachusetts and visit my own dad, sometime between his birthday and June 19.  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Taken 2" (Movie #1,913)

THE PLOT:  Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name.

AFTER: I'm tying a lot of recent themes together with this one - we've got the ex-special agent (as in "The Equalizer") who gets framed for murder ("American Gigolo", "Lost Highway") so he has to go on the run ("Run All Night") while trying to figure who the real murderer is ("A Walk Among the Tombstones") and this puts him in conflict with Russian mobsters ("The Equalizer" again) who were once part of the Russian military ("Enemy at the Gates" and "K-19: The Widowmaker").  Plus there's a lot of that close-contact fighting that I've seen in so many movies lately, like "Batman v Superman" and "John Wick" and "Kingsman: The Secret Service".  Definitely a trend. 

But all that is not why the film feels familiar - it's probably because the plot is cribbed straight from "The Fugitive", right down to the professional lawman (police in this case, not U.S. marshal) who has to track him down, even though he believes that he's probably innocent.  The only difference seems to be that in that Harrison Ford movie, Dr. Kimble was a relative novice at living on the lam, but here we can just count it as another one of Bryan Mills' "special skills" - hey, it rhymes, Bryan Mills with the particular set of skills.  

Watching a "Taken" film is like waiting for the other shoe to drop, there can be moments where our hero's life seem to be going well, maybe his ex-wife wants to reconcile, or maybe his daughter has some good news to share with him, but you just know this is a temporary respite in his life, and there's a whole bunch of bad news just around the corner.  Surprisingly, the situation here does not seem to be a reprisal for his actions in "Taken 2", which were a direct result of him punishing the men who kidnapped his daughter in "Taken".  The filmmakers realized that if they kept the cycle going, it was never going to end - each villain would always have a brother or a cousin that would want revenge. 

They went a different way with it this time, which is about the only thing that feels original here.  Still, nothing explains why a man who knows that he is innocent doesn't surrender to the police and answer their questions.  If he were guilty, there would be plenty of physical evidence to support that, and likewise since he's innocent, there should be little or none.  So why not let the police do their job, and stand on his otherwise spotless record, and not run away from the cops.  Newsflash, if you run, you look guilty!  

But I get it, he believes in his own special skills more than he believes in the police, and in fact he gets halfway into his investigation before the cops even catch up with him.  But then there's about a half-hour break in the film where he has to go through a lot of trouble just to get a message to his daughter, and this feels like killing time.  Hello, there's a killer on the loose, and he's wasting precious time - and this also makes him look more guilty, because an innocent man would get right on the hunt, because the ONE thing he knows is that he didn't do it.  
Also starring Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Body Snatchers"), Famke Janssen (last seen in "Don't Say a Word"), Maggie Grace (last seen in "Taken 2"), Leland Orser (ditto), Dougray Scott (last seen in "My Week With Marilyn"), Sam Spruell (also carrying over from "K-19: The Widowmaker"), David Warshofsky (also last seen in "Don't Say a Word"), Don Harvey (last seen in "Noah"), Dylan Bruno, Andrew Howard.

RATING: 5 out of 10 camera angles (of the SAME explosion!)