Sunday, August 4, 2013

Con Air (1997)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (6.8).

"Make a move and the bunny gets it."
The film was nominated for Best Original Song (for "How Do I Live") and Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Art Rochester) at the 70th Academy Awards, losing to Titanic in both categories.
Conversely, the film won the Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property" at the 18th Golden Raspberry Awards. "How Do I Live" was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Razzie Award Worst Original Song, but won neither.
— Wikipedia

So.  It's kind of hard to tell if this film is in the "wow, this is mediocre" bucket or the "holy crap, this is so bad it's great!" pail.  The premise — hardened convicts try to escape by taking over a prisoner transport plane — seems reasonable enough on the surface, but the execution is rather silly, the action is cliché as hell, every comedic beat is totally predictable, and you have bemulleted Nicolas Cage putting on a ridiculously fake Alabama accent and being all Nicolas-Cagey.  It's sort of Snakes on a Plane 9 years early, but a bit less self-aware and a bit more intelligent.  Add in the cheesy as hell "How Do I Live" song, the dumb but quotable bunny memes, and the fact that the action (while cliché) is competently done and works, and... well... yeah, this is worth a watch.  Score: 2 stars out of 4.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.7).

This film is a love letter to both the daikaiju film genre (Godzilla 1954 et al.) and the giant mecha manga/anime genre (Gundam, Macross, Robotech, Evangelion, etc.).  The plot is simple (humans build giant robots to fight off giant monsters), the dialogue is sparse, and (expected for the genre) physics does not ensue, but the film is far from the "dumb action movie" that some have dismissed it as.  The meat of the movie is in the visuals, and I don't (just) mean the special effects; character establishment happens in brief glances and body language, and the story moves forward in unexplained jumbled images that put you in the shoes of the confused characters.  Sure, on one level, there's the spectacle of 25-story-tall robots firing arm-mounted plasma cannons at rampaging city-destroying aliens.  But the film is deeply focused on the characters and the ties that bind them, on the things that drive one human to protect another.  A rarity for a Hollywood film: there are no romantic subplots to be found, despite a female protagonist who develops a strong bond with a male protagonist... a male whom she finds attractive, no less.  The movie is perfectly content to leave their bond ambiguously in the realm of close-as-kin friendship.  In short: man, I love this movie.  It's probably not going to be a masterpiece remembered for decades to come (Hunnam is "meh", Day and Gorman are "huh?", the Crimson Typhoon pilots are "who?", Elba is great but gets a dumb Independence Day speech).  But it's solid, and maybe even the best thing coming out this year.  Go see it.  Score: 4 stars out of 4.

P.S.: It's a shame this movie wasn't made 10 years ago.  Against the schlocky backdrop of recent cinema, any film that can be summarized as "giant robots punch things" or "giant monsters destroy things" is going to turn off a lot of people.  And the fact that this movie is boldly hopeful and sincere, in an era when "grimdark" and "bitterly cynical" are considered the hallmarks of maturity, is going to turn people off even more.  Screw that.  As I've mentioned before, I don't generally see movies in theaters unless my friends drag me... but the buzz I'd heard about Pacific Rim got me excited, I went to see it, and (minor miracle here) I walked out of the theater with a big damn smile on my face, totally satisfied with what I saw.  Huzzah.

Refs: The Visual Intelligence of Pacific Rim (Sam Keeper); Simple Does Not Equal Dumb, and Other Assorted Thoughts on Pacific Rim (Karin L. Kross)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Twister (1996)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (6.1).

You want loud, dumb, skillful, escapist entertainment? Twister works. You want to think? Think twice about seeing it.
— Roger Ebert

While my friends revile this tornado-based disaster film, I enjoy it quite a bit... and yet, I can never quite put my finger on why. On one hand, there's a lot about this movie that irks me; each time I watch it, it's a certainty I'll be calling back at the screen "hey, funnel clouds don't work that way!" and "uh, in reality the 200 mph debris just bludgeoned them to death", as if I were watching some sort of wind-based re-imagining of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and not "Mad About You with tornadoes". But despite its very real flaws, I love this film sincerely and un-ironically. Part of it is the film's snarky-banter sense of humor; Joss Whedon was apparently an uncredited script doctor on this, and while this is no Buffy or Firefly, I think Whedon's influence shows in the dialogue and the rapport the characters have. But I think the main reason I love it comes from my inner 12 year old weather nerd, the one who knows his isobars from his isotachs and his cold fronts from his dry lines... the one who kind of wants to be a tornado chaser when he grows up, yearning both to comprehend and to be awed by the way the world can reorganize its own pieces into something so powerful. The film, for all its faults, manages to convey both yearnings in a way that respects the very real science (VORTEX and TOTO) that this movie is loosely based on. Of all the things written by Michael Crichton, I think this is the one I can respect the most: for once in his career, Crichton was willing to put his "hubris of scientists" theme on the back-burner, and let us celebrate the unadulterated joy of discovery and understanding. And, for that reason if no other, I think this film deserves love... or, at the very least, a look. Score: 3 stars out of 4.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Leonard Part 6 (1987)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (2.2).

It's not the liquid that makes the magic... it's the molybdenum-chromium catalyst.
I could put Yoohoo in this thing and it would work.
— Medusa, Leonard Part 6

Leonard: If I stop Medusa and save the world... will you move back in with me?
Allison: If you stop Medusa and save the world, I'll think about it.
Leonard: All right! Let's go save the world!
— Leonard and Allison, Leonard Part 6

This spy comedy, winner of three Golden Raspberries and starring Bill Cosby as the titular Leonard, is reputed to be so bad that Cosby himself apologized on the talk show circuit and warned audiences not to see the finished film. It tanked HARD. Honestly, though... I liked it as a kid, and while I can see its flaws more clearly now, I still like it to this day. Be warned, however, that my fellow movie night companions were less impressed: only 2 of us in a group of 5 liked it, and I was one of the two. I'll grant that there are some pretty awkward jokes: the "Winston Churchill" and "That is a big door" scenes together add up to... 5 mg of comedy in a 10 lb bag. But Gloria Foster (later to become the Oracle in The Matrix, but here channeling Tina Turner's turn in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) is a hoot as the villain Medusa, and I still have fun watching the love/hate relationship Allison has with her husband Leonard. If you like whiplash-inducing absurd comedy, this may be up your alley. Score: 2 stars out of 4 (minus a penalty star if the comedy style doesn't appeal to you).

P.S.: I should note that this film is not actually a sequel to anything. Apparently this provokes a fair amount of confusion.