Saturday, May 18, 2013

Jack Reacher

Year 5, Day 138 - 5/18/13 - Movie #1,429

BEFORE: I'm taking a chance with this one - obviously Tom Cruise carries over and I think there's a killer in here somewhere, but I don't want to read too much about the plot.  As a result I'm not sure if this totally fits in with my theme.  Plus, it's on the PPV, so I'm not sure if it will be worth the $4.99, which is a tough call to make when I have so many other films already standing by on DVD.

THE PLOT:  A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.

AFTER: Well, I think I made the right call, with so many connections to "Collateral", as follows: 1) Tom Cruise plays a total bad-ass, 2) an assassin/hit-man takes out (or intends to take out) five targets, 3) there's lots of action, especially car chases + stunts, and 4) REDACTED, since this similarity is a key part of both films' plots.

Jack Reacher is a great, well-rounded character.  He's ex-military, sort of a cop who investigated rogue soldiers, who quit the military and now drifts around the country, doling out justice.  He can see things in a crime scene that other investigators miss, he's got a skill set that rivals James Bond, and he just sort of turns up when he's needed, and vanishes when he's done.

And more than anything else, he's smart.  Smart and observant, so add in a little Sherlock Holmes to that James Bond thing.  Weapons, martial arts, keen insights into the criminal mind - am I missing anything?  I hope this is the start of a "Die Hard"-like franchise, cause fans of action movies will probably end up crushing (even male-crushing) on Jack Reacher. 

If I've got any complaint tonight, it would only be that the character is a little TOO perfect - his martial arts style always beats the other guy's, his bullets strike true when the bad guys shoot ten times as many bullets and miss every time.  But this is really a convention of most action films - after all, if the bad guys were bette-r fighters or shooters, then the hero would be dead and the film would end halfway through - and then the audience would lose.  Plus, if you go to see any action film - James Bond, Spider-Man, even the damn Smurfs - you know the central character's going to win out, right?  Who wants to see that movie if Spider-Man loses?

I won't say this film is perfect, because it's not.  Reacher's investigation manages to answer most of the lingering questions, but not all of them.  But it's a solid thriller, and I feel it was worth the $5 I paid to keep my chain going.

Also starring Rosamund Pike (last seen in "Barney's Version"), Richard Jenkins (last seen in "Fun With Dick and Jane"), Robert Duvall (last seen in "To Kill a Mockingbird"), David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog,

RATING: 7 out of 10 missing fingers

Friday, May 17, 2013


Year 5, Day 137 - 5/17/13 - Movie #1,428

BEFORE: I've got the big list of films to watch (still holding at 230) and I usually don't program exact dates until the start of each month, but about 95% of the list is organized (roughly) by subject or theme.  Everything shifts up one position each day, so it can be hard to plan too far ahead.  But making some quick calculations today, after I get through this topic, then do spies, then some sci-fi, carry the one... this should lead into superhero films approximately one week before San Diego Comic-Con.  Perfect, I love it when the schedule coincides with my life.  I'm tempted to go see "Iron Man 3" in theaters now, but if I do, I think I'll treat it like an extra film and just post the review with the other superhero films in July - we're cool with that, right? 

Linking from "Miami Blues", Alec Baldwin was also in "Rock of Ages" with Tom Cruise (last seen in "Cocktail") - that film is on my list, just quite a bit farther down.  And "Miami Blues" makes me think of "Miami Vice", which was directed by Michael Mann, who also directed "Collateral". 

THE PLOT:  A cab driver finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in LA. He must find a way to save both himself and one last victim.

AFTER: At first this seems like an outrageous premise.  Why wouldn't a professional killer have his own car standing by?  Why couldn't he rent a car at the airport and drive himself around?  Ah, but that would leave a trail, plus maybe he doesn't know his way around L.A., and who knows better than a cabbie?  This one's a real pro, and can even tell him how long it's going to take to get to the next stop, so he can plan his whole night.

The question then becomes - if the cabbie drives him around so he can complete his hits, and he's aware of the activity taking place, does he become an accessory to murder?  What if he doesn't realize it?  But I suppose that's a moot point, because he does, and his morality forces him to take action.

The film also manages to provide a WHY for these killings, that appear to be random at first.  So I appreciate the inclusion of the WHY, particularly because films like "Miami Blues" didn't see fit to do so.  So we've got motivation, plenty of action, and everything sort of lines up - so why is my rating so low?

Primarily because the film relies on coincidence - a HUGE coincidence, in fact.  L.A. is a city of nearly 4 million people, 2nd most populous in the country, and to have a random person from the start of the film play such a key role at the end is hard to swallow.  I mean, it's a movie, so you expect this sort of thing - but it's just this kind of thing that pulls me out of the film's reality and makes me aware of Hollywood conventions.  

Also starring Jamie Foxx (last seen in "Horrible Bosses"), Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Zodiac"), Peter Berg, Javier Bardem (last seen in "No Country for Old Men"), Bruce McGill (last seen in "Recount"), with cameos from Debi Mazar, Jason Statham (last heard in "Gnomeo & Juliet").

RATING: 4 out of 10 security guards

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Miami Blues

Year 5, Day 136 - 5/16/13 - Movie #1,427

BEFORE:  I still have movie sins to atone for - in this case, all I've watched of this film are the scenes early in the film with Jennifer Jason Leigh.  You know the ones.  But I don't have any idea what takes place in the rest of the film, so I'm rectifying that tonight.

Linking from "The Whole Ten Yards", Bruce Willis was also in "Mercury Rising" with Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Fun With Dick and Jane").

THE PLOT:  When Fred Frenger gets out of prison, he decides to start over in Miami, Florida, where he starts a violent one-man crime wave.

AFTER: This is more of a character study than anything else - the contrast between a killer and a cop who end up playing a cat-and-mouse game.  Except the mouse is quite deadly, so maybe it's more like cat and snake.  And there's a bit of a disconnect because the evil one is also the attractive one, and the upstanding cop has more physical flaws - he's older, with false teeth, and he's just not as handsome.  It's hard to believe, but the young Alec Baldwin was really in shape, and in 1990 he sort of resembled the current Ryan Gosling.

Unfortunately this film makes almost no attempt to dig into the characters and let us know WHY they do what they do.  For a thief/killer with no apparent moral compass, it would be helpful to know what motivates him.  Is it just the money, the late 80's emphasis on material things?  Why is so eager to impersonate a cop and play vigilante?  What sort of person kills the way he does?

Alternatively, what drives the cop?  What keeps him going, what makes him get up out of bed and pursue the man impersonating him?  Is it for revenge, justice, or just a paycheck?  Without any of this, the film just seems ultimately pointless.  And a movie can be many things, it can shock me, scare me, or entertain me, but I can't stand it when a film is pointless.

Also starring Jennifer Jason Leigh (last seen in "Greenberg"), Fred Ward (last seen in "Thunderheart"), Charles Napier, Nora Dunn (last seen in "Laws of Attraction"), Obba Babatundé, Paul Gleason (last seen in "Arthur").

RATING: 2 out of 10 haikus

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Whole Ten Yards

Year 5, Day 135 - 5/15/13 - Movie #1,426

BEFORE: It's the week for TV season finales, which means I have to stay off of all social media until I can get some more TV shows watched.  I've got sort of a hierarchy when it comes to reality TV - I've simply got to watch the "Survivor" finale live (OK, half an hour late) because I can't risk seeing the results in the news the following day.  But that knocked out my whole Sunday night.  For "American Idol", I've been about a week behind ever since I got back from vacation - fortunately most of the results haven't made the news this year, so all I have to do is avoid "The Tonight Show" on Fridays (or Mondays, or whenever they have the loser on - you know what, let's just skip Leno for the duration...).

For "The Celebrity Apprentice", I've also been running about a week behind, watching Sunday's show the following Saturday, when I have time to clear the DVR.  But this means I hadn't seen the show where the Final Four got cut down to the Final Two, and I saw the finalists on a poster promoting their ice cream flavors while walking past a Duane Reade today.  Oh, well, I knew the risks - this just means I can probably zip through last Sunday's episode even faster to get to the finale/results.  And for "The Amazing Race", well, I just dumped all the episodes to VHS and I'll try to get to them in the next couple of weeks.  I stayed off Twitter for a few days right after, and with this show it's good that the news doesn't really report the winners any more, after so many seasons it barely registers on the hip-meter. 

Tonight I'm also wrapping up this week's Bruce Willis-themed programming.  I don't have a copy of this one handy - no cable channel seems to want to run it - but I'd rather finish the franchise than have to circle back to this later, so I'm willing to spend a couple bucks and watch this on iTunes.  I give, and give and give for you people, and what thanks do I get?

THE PLOT:  Jimmy the Tulip's quiet new life is shaken up by his old pal Oz, whose wife has been kidnapped by a Hungarian mob.

AFTER: So since I don't like having things spoiled, I try to maintain a spoiler-free zone here at the Movie Year.  Most of the time I'm able to talk about a film by just stating the premise, and without giving away all the plot points and twists, or I mainly talk about my general thoughts on the film, or find a way to connect it to my current or past experiences.  This is why I don't think of myself as a movie reviewer - I don't envy those people who have to talk about a film without talking about things that happen in it.  That seems like a tricky line to walk.

Just wondering, has anyone ever seen the words "SPOILER ALERT" and stopped reading?  I know I haven't - printing it just seems to be something of a formality, like covering your mouth when you cough, even though you're still going to touch everything with that hand and talk on the phone and spread your germs anyway.  I always keep reading, maybe I'm not a strong enough person - and only occasionally have I regretted doing so.

I've definitely got an advantage when I watch films from the 80's or 90's - or even tonight's film, released in 2004.  If you haven't gotten around to watching this film yet, maybe you're not destined to do so - or maybe it's not your kind of film.  I think the downfall of "The Whole Ten Yards" is that it's trying to be so many different things - a romance, a comedy, a black comedy (yes, they're different), an action shoot-em-up, and a heist film (though in a roundabout way).  And then on top of all that, it throws in a bunch of slapstick for good measure - and slapstick, of course, is the lowest rung on the comedy ladder.  Can someone tell me how many times Matthew Perry manages to slam his body into a door, which he is also trying to walk through?  He seems quite uncoordinated.

There's also a feeble attempt to turn the love triangle from the last film (hitman/hitman's ex-wife/dentist) into a quadrangle by involving the hitman's girlfriend - but this slams together two characters in an unbelievably forced fashion - so why do it, then?

There's almost nothing here about the morality of contract killing, except to point out the same dichotomy as before, that the hitman doesn't consider himself to be a bad person.  Any other contrasts here are derived from showing him cooking, cleaning house, and tending to his domestic chickens.

Beyond that, the movie has "the plan", though it never gets around to cluing the audience in on the big plan until the film is about 95% over.  This, of course, is after the "perfect" plan from the first film manages to unravel in the first 5 minutes of this one.  So, how perfect was it? 

There's also an embarrassingly large number of continuity mistakes - too many to list here, but you can read about all of them on the IMDB.  It's another sign that the filmmakers just weren't trying very hard here - even the continuity people were just phoning it in.

Also starring Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Kevin Pollak (all carrying over from "The Whole Nine Yards"),

RATING: 3 out of 10 shot glasses

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Whole Nine Yards

Year 5, Day 134 - 5/14/13 - Movie #1,425

BEFORE: More Bruce Willis tonight, and I'm back to hitmen/contract killers.  I know it seems like I'm switching back and forth, but for my purposes (and to maintain the best linkage) I'm treating hired killers the same as serial killers - and this will lead me into spies, which are, cinematically speaking, sort of just like hired killers who work for the government.

THE PLOT:  Nick is a struggling dentist in Canada. A new neighbor moves in, and he discovers that it is Jimmy "The Tulip" Teduski. His wife convinces him to go to Chicago and inform the mob boss who wants Jimmy dead.

AFTER: I'm glad to have a bit of comedy around here, this project has been going down some pretty dark roads in the past few weeks.  Even black comedy is welcome - and I mean "black" as in gallows humor, not African-American - but in the end it all comes down to tone.  It's really hard to nail the appropriate level of comedy when people are getting shot at here and there.

Here Bruce Willis plays it cool, which gives us an interesting look inside the mind of a hit-man.  His morals may be questionable, but he doesn't seem to have much self-doubt.  He kills people for money, but does not consider himself a bad man - if anything, he considers his clients to be bad people, because they're the ones who want their husbands or wives dead.  Somehow he sees himself as the instrument of their sins, yet retains his own personal moral self-image.  Maybe "honorable" is a better word than "moral".

But then there's this dichotomy, because he also wants his own wife dead - yet he doesn't believe in divorce, which would be immoral.  But killing her is somehow OK - it's a little more complicated than that, because of the contrivances of the film that involve a large sum of money, but that's the gist of it.

The whole situation is seen through the eyes of a mild-mannered dentist, the "everyman" of the piece who himself is in a loveless marriage - and finding out that a hitman has moved in next door is first presented as a problem, then some kind of opportunity.  But then it's a problem again, and then a complicated solution of sorts.   So there are more than a few turn-arounds, or double- and triple-crosses, which are at the heart of any good crime film.

What's weird is that nobody at any point chooses to go to the police, or contact the authorities in any way.  That's probably the first thing I'd do if I thought someone was trying to have me killed.  But the cops are really an after-thought here, maybe it's because they're Canadian and therefore sort of ineffectual.  Instead, people are rewarded for either out-thinking or out-shooting everyone else.

I had an opportunity to send a script for an animated feature to Matthew Perry a few years ago, which he ended up turning down.  But he asked us to send it to him under an assumed name, which was "Alvy Singer" - that's the character Woody Allen played in "Annie Hall".  So when I watched him in this film, I was thinking about that, and that turned out to be the key to Perry's character here.  I think that's how he sees himself, as a Woody-like nebbish character, caught up in situations outside his control, involving people who are more powerful and dangerous (think of that weird car ride with Christopher Walken in "Annie Hall"). 

So, Dirty Harry taught us that ketchup doesn't belong on a hot dog, and this film instructs us that mayonnaise does not belong on a hamburger.  Must be a Canadian thing - but Russian dressing on a burger is OK, and that's part mayo, right?  These rules are almost as inconsistent as the hitman's morals.

Also starring Matthew Perry (last seen in "Almost Heroes"), Michael Clarke Duncan (last seen in "Green Lantern"), Amanda Peet (last seen in "Changing Lanes"), Rosanna Arquette, Natasha Henstridge, Harland Williams.

RATING: 5 out of 10 dental records

Monday, May 13, 2013

Striking Distance

Year 5, Day 133 - 5/13/13 - Movie #1,424

BEFORE: And just like that, it feels like the month is almost half over.  Geez, that was quick - it feels like May 1 was just a couple of days ago.

Bruce Willis carries over from "Mortal Thoughts", and I'm back on the serial killer beat.

THE PLOT:  A serial killer is back in Pittsburgh to torment the former homicide detective who was on his trail years before.

AFTER:  At first glance, this film appears to share quite a bit of its DNA with "Twisted", the first film in my serial killer chain.  A homicide detective with a dead father and a complicated family has a killer targeting all of his/her ex-lovers, and this causes suspicion to fall on the cop.  Oh, and the main character sleeps with his/her cop partner, which is probably against regulations somehow.

But "Twisted" focused on a female detective, and this one focuses on a male detective.  "Twisted" was set in San Francisco, and this one's set in Pittsburgh.  See?  Totally different.  Apparently Pittsburgh is all about the rivers - and people are always either jumping into them, or tossing bodies into them.

The other main difference?  "Twisted" sucked, and this one's quite watchable - up to a point, at least.  There are twists, but not too many, and most of them are believable, except for the ones that aren't.  I guess you could say this mines the same territory as "Tightrope" too - and that's what I'm all about, finding the connections between films.  It helps to see what elements are common to films in the same genre, because then I can tell which films are doing things differently, in order to stand out.

Plus, even though in both cases the central character is at least suspected of killing their ex-lovers, in "Twisted" we are supposed to believe that a young woman could do that while passed-out drunk.  Here a lot of evidence leads the cops to Bruce Willis' character - but in a way, blood evidence in a cop's house doesn't make much sense.  Wouldn't a cop know not to leave blood evidence behind?  So here the very obvious evidence in his house actually sort of clears him, in a roundabout sort of way.

But there are still gaps - things that are unexplained or never fully followed up on.  Like why does the killer call the police and play the song "Little Red Riding Hood" over the phone after each murder?  Sure, it's a great old song by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, but why THAT song?  Because that's the song the filmmakers could get the rights to?

I won't give away the twist, but one of the actors in this film famously gave the big one away while appearing on Late Night with David Letterman.  Oops. 

Also starring Sarah Jessica Parker (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), Dennis Farina (last seen in "The Mod Squad"), Tom Sizemore (last seen in "Natural Born Killers"), John Mahoney (last seen in "Reality Bites"), Robert Pastorelli (last seen in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit"), Brion James, Timothy Busfield, Andre Braugher (last seen in "Salt").

RATING: 5 out of 10 policeman's ball tickets

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mortal Thoughts

Year 5, Day 132 - 5/12/13 - Movie #1,423

BEFORE:  I was convinced that linking actors would be impossible tonight - I'd had a plan, but then switched around "Tightrope" and "Play Misty For Me" in the line-up.  Oh, well, actor linking has to come to an end sometime.  But not just yet - turns out Clarice Taylor, who played the cleaning lady in "Play Misty For Me", was also in the film "Smoke" - she played the older lady who had a key scene at the end with Harvey Keitel (last seen in "Sister Act"), and he plays a detective in tonight's film.

THE PLOT:  Cynthia comes forward to talk to detectives about the murder of her best friend's husband. The story is told as a series of flashbacks.

AFTER: Eh, this is pretty basic stuff.  Maybe it's my fault, after watching films about serial killers, a little story about a domestic spat that gets violent doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

Yeah, there's something of a "Usual Suspects" vibe, as the cops keep asking questions and triggering more flashbacks, but when the complete story gets pieced together, it just earned something of a "Eh, so what?" reaction from me.

If the murder victim gets portrayed as a terrible person, someone who "deserved" to die, then they can't expect me to care when his killer is revealed.  You can't have it both ways - killing somebody can't be both a good and a bad thing.  Can it?

Also starring Demi Moore (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Bruce Willis (last seen in "Billy Bathgate"), Glenn Headly, John Pankow, Frank Vincent.

RATING: 4 out of 10 carnival games