June 6, 2016

Lethal Weapon 1 & 2

I distinctly remember scrutinizing this movie poster while waiting for
a train in 1989 and wondering "does that little red dot on the gun mean
the safety is ON or it's NOT on?"
The cable TV channel REELZ showed Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2 back-to-back the other night; I watched most of the first one on Sunday evening, then TiVo'd the sequel to watch Monday evening.
  • The whole point of the movie is that Riggs is the loose cannon rogue cop who doesn't follow the rules, and Murtaugh plays it safe. There's no arguing that the bad guys are bad guys, but the complete disregard for civil rights and due process is completely out of fashion in 2016, especially for the LAPD. Riggs is cut from the same vigilante cloth as Dirty Harry, but in our post Rodney King, post Ferguson America, Riggs looks more reckless than effective. In Lethal Weapon 2 he breaks into the house on stilts, and later, sneaks into the South African embassy. Both times I thought to myself "without a search warrant, what is the point of this illegal entry? Even if there was no diplomatic immunity, any evidence he finds will get thrown out of any court in America!"
  • I tried to feel bad for Patsy Kensit-- In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs seduces her when he's already marked for death by her bosses. If his motivation is to gather intel from her while seducing her (James Bond style) I can understand that cold calculation, but that does not appear to be the case- not only does she not pump her...for information (pun intended), he does not seem at all concerned that he is endangering her life by getting her involved with him. Indeed, even after the helicopter firefight at his mobile home, he takes Kensit home to her apartment, aggressively ignoring the possibility that the baddies will find them there (which they do). A few minutes later, when Riggs recovers her very soggy and dead body in his letterman jacket from the harbor, his distress rings pretty hollow to me. If he hadn't gotten randy for the cute secretary, and he had made the smallest amount of strategic thinking, she'd still be alive.
  • Mel Gibson's "American" accent was still really terrible in these movies.
  • Michael Kamen's score is bombastic, but that's appropriate for the tone of the movie!
  • There were a lot of helicopters in action movies in the Eighties! I understand the baddies in the first movie are all Vietnam vets, so there's a history of helicopters, but the helicopter stunt flying is given lots of screen time too.
  • The destruction of the house on stilts is very impressive. For 1989 it must be real, right? It does not look like a model!
  • I just confirmed what I have always suspected: Gibson was born in 1956, which makes Martin Riggs 10 years too young to have served in Vietnam. Even if he was a crack sniper at age 19, that was 1975, the year the US left Vietnam. I suppose if Riggs is 5 years older than Gibson the math works?
  • By contrast, Gary Busey, the "albino jackrabbit sonovabitch" who plays crazy very convincingly, was born in 1944, which is just right for a Vietnam vet.
  • Mel Gibson plays the insane berzerker TOO effectively! It's easy to see why we all wanted him to play Wolverine in an X-Men movie.
  • I forgot how funny Joe Pesci is! A real treat. So adorable! On the other hand, when he's tied up and beaten by the South African thugs, I wanted his Tommy DeVito character from GoodFellas to appear and start shooting everyone in the foot.

June 2, 2016

Lucy

Luc Besson, who always has leavened his action spectaculars with a dash of philosophy (see The Fifth Element and Leon) has made a thinking-person's superhero origin story...without the heroics. The Big Question Besson seems to be asking is "what is the greatest purpose of mankind when granted omnipotence and omniscience?" The movie is urgent and serious, ie, not much fun and over very quickly: The first half hour creeps by- just get to the chop-socky action already! And then it's the entire movie is a slender 90 minutes.
Viewed at home on HBO Go

May 30, 2016

Octopussy

Some pretty lazy and dumb Indian jokes mar an otherwise coherent and exciting Roger Moore Bond film:
The action and stunts are terrific, especially the minijet stunt flying through the exploding hangar during the opening sequence, and then near the end, the spectacular train stunts.
There's two Swedish-born leading ladies: Maud Adams as Octopussy, and Magda - who I thought was Barbara Bach with thinner eyebrows until I did some research and discovered she's Kristina Wayborn. The two ladies are rather redundant, I wonder if they felt Maud Adams wasn't young enough to bring the adequate sex appeal?
I quite enjoy Louis Jordan as the villain Kamal Khan - I love the backgammon scene where Bond beats his with his own loaded dice and pulls the super-cool "no look" roll.
"Spend the money quickly, Mister Bond" Khan advises while handing over the winnings.
Another great villain - perhaps too good for the movie - is Steven Berkoff as rogue Soviet General Orlov. Berkoff also made a great impression the following year as Victor Maitland, the art dealer / cocaine importer from Beverly Hills Cop.
Viewed on Amazon Prime Instant Video

May 22, 2016

Diamonds Are Forever

Sean Connery looks puffy and out of shape throughout. There's very little physical action for him, and he doesn't look great doing it...except for one neat trick where he leaps off the back of an ATV. I assumed it was a stuntman but no, he literally leaps off, runs over to Case's Mustang, and peels out.
I love the "ironic" exposition- the diamond expert explains in a smug, patronizing manner how the Empire has brought civilization to South Africa in exchange for the diamond mining business, but his exposition is played over images of the smuggling operation in action.

Tiffany Case (Jill St John) and Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood) are two of the sexiest Bond girls ever - too bad Plenty is just a gold digger looking for high rollers in the casino, and Tiffany has some terrible overacting and bad line readings. At least Tiffany has agency - she doesn't sleep with Bond until the end of the second act (that's restraint!) and she has a purpose other than looking amazing- she's a diamond smuggler who nearly gets away with her larceny.
Often the plots of Bond movies fall apart if you take two steps back and try to justify how the schemes could have been planned in advance. For example:
  1. SPECTRE needs a stockpile of diamonds to build its satellite laser.
  2. A dentist working for a mining company, servicing South African miners, pays cash to the miners for diamonds, and delivers the stones to one of several middlemen.
  3. Apparently SPECTRE has learned of this underground conduit and decides to divert the diamonds.
  4. Mr Wint & Mr Kidd intercept the dentist's dropoff, kill the dentist, AND kill his next contact in the pipeline (the helicopter pilot).
  5. Mr Wint & Mr Kidd then deliver the diamonds to the missionary teacher in South Africa, so she can smuggle them to Tiffany Case in Amsterdam. They follow her to Amsterdam and murder her after she makes the dropoff with Ms Case.
  6. Ms Case is due to deliver the diamonds to Peter Franks. Franks is being paid $50,000 to come up with a plan and smuggle the diamonds into America. Ms Case makes a clear point that Franks must hatch a scheme for smuggling the diamonds.
  7. Franks is arrested and Bond takes his place and meets Case posing as Franks.
  8. Franks escapes custody and arrives in Amsterdam. Bond successfully kills Franks and switches wallets with him. Case is fooled into thinking "Franks" has murdered "Bond".
  9. Bond decides to use Franks' body to smuggle the diamonds into America. Bond implies the stones are in Franks' colon, but it's possible he just hid them under the butt of the corpse. This is important later, trust me.
  10. When Bond, Case, and the dead Franks land at LAX, a hearse and three men from "Slumber, Inc" meet Bond at the airport with a hearse. Here's where things start to go sideways for me. Case somehow contacted her employer to say "Franks is smuggling the 'items' in a dead body. We're arriving at LAX on Friday" or whatever.
  11. Bond and the three gangsters ride in the hearse for four hours to Las Vegas. The hearse arrives at Slumber Funeral Home.
  12. Mr Slumber, the funeral home director, goes through the motions with Bond as they send the casket into the crematory oven.
  13. A minute later, an assistant appears in Slumber's office with an urn filled with the diamonds from Franks' body.
  14. Still going through the motions, Slumber directs Bond to a chamber in their mausoleum, where he leaves the urn filled with diamonds and picks up an envelope full of cash.
  15. Mr Wint & Mr Kidd whack Bond over the head and load him into another casket. They never intended to pay Mr Franks, so they don't need to recover the fifty grand from his pocket- the envelope they left for Franks is full of counterfeit bills.
  16. Bond's about to be cremated when Slumber and a stranger (comedian Shady Tree, apparently tied to the Mob too) save him because they've just discovered the diamonds Bond smuggled are fakes. Bond counters that they've paid him with counterfeit cash - "you wouldn't burn up fifty thousand real dollars, would you?" and he saunters off.
  17. Bond spends the counterfeit bills on the craps tables at the Whyte House and wins big.
What's wrong with this?
  • Where did Bond get a huge stockpile of fake diamonds and when did he make the switch? Did he bring them with him to Amsterdam in Step 7?
  • Before Step 9, there was no system in place for smuggling diamonds to Las Vegas in a dead body. Bond just made that up. Who found a Mob-connected funeral home that would make all the arrangements to accept a dead body and extract the diamonds from the corpse? This was all set up between Steps 9 and 10.
  • Step 13: How the heck does the undertaker get the diamonds out of the corpse and into the urn so quickly? Burning a body and casket takes HOURS. Even if they didn't burn the body, how did they retrieve them from the body so fast?
Viewed on Amazon Prime Instant Video

May 18, 2016

Ferris Bueller's Day Off


Fenway Screen 10:
This was supposed to be Eve and Emily,
but fate brought Amy, Mandy, and I together instead.
I have seen Ferris Bueller far too many times- I need a ten-year moratorium in order to make the movie fresh again - but it was fun to see it on the big screen with friends. Also, Mandy and I had a chance to catch up and eat dinner at the fancy new Wahlburgers across the street!
Emily and her friend Eve were supposed to go to this screening, but due to circumstances, they both had to drop out.
Eve bought these reserved seating tickets way in advance. Reserved advanced ticketing is a real mixed blessing. It's very convenient to take all chance out of a movie screening buy reserving a seat in advance. You don't have to show up early to know you're getting a good seat.
The downside is, advanced ticketing removes all flexibility:
  • If someone gets sick, you are stuck with a $12 movie ticket.
  • Especially for new releases, you cannot spontaneously meet up with friends, because the seats are all sold out in advance.
  • Even if the seats are not sold out, you may not be able to sit together.
For the theaters, it's a win-win - they get to charge more money for a service that allows/forces you to spending your money on a ticket:
  • The theater gets to keep your money even if you have to change your plans
  • The theater gets to deposit (and earn interest on) your cash for the time between when you bought the ticket and when you attend - in theory you could earn that interest for yourself for those two weeks. It's not much for you, but the theater corporation must have an enormous pool of cash for advance sales that helps pad their bottom line!

May 17, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

I skipped Age of Ultron, so I have NO IDEA who
this is, but I CAN tell you he's completely derivative.
Most of the Avengers team does a good job of tackling the essential truth of super-powers- should superhuman power be governed? This is territory that has been covered already by the X-Men franchise, and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but this version may be the best at it.
I skipped Age of Ultron in the theater after some bad word-of-mouth, and I still can't rent it on my Roku, so maybe I'm missing some pieces:
  • Why is Tony Stark so pro-oversight? In all his previous movies he was mostly suspicious of the government. I found his pro-oversight stance unbelievable.
  • Paul Bettany's Vision is so derivative of every previous superintelligent AI. So boring.
The twists at the end of the movie were completely surprising, HUGE, and totally worth it. I only wonder where the franchise is going to go next when they've painted themselves into a corner- if massive destruction (like we enjoyed so much in the first Avengers movie) is so morally wrong, what are the next movies going to be filled with?
How do you reunite Iron Man and Captain America after this? It looks like the Avengers are going to continue to be the most serious of the Marvel franchises - if you want levity you gotta hope Guardians 2 is as fun as the first.
I love the new Peter Parker, played by a very young-looking Tom Holland (who is nothing like Tom Hollander). I had totally forgotten about Paul Rudd / Ant Man's appearance, so I was delighted to see him. Ant Man and Spider-Man provide the only levity in this movie.
Embassy Cinema Waltham, with Adam, Screen 5

May 1, 2016

Spotlight


After finding an unrepentant pedophile, Pfeiffer
surveys the neighborhood with new eyes.
A powerful, amazing true story. As good an investigative journalism movie as All The President's Men, if not better. Also a tough watch for me, a native of the Boston area, as the culture that created, sustained, and ignored the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is revealed in its ugly, inert reality.
Thanks to Em for insisting I watch it- it's essential viewing for any New Englander, and any supporter of our free press.
It's not only a grim history lesson: it's a visceral story with terrific performances. I was especially amazed by Rachel McAdams as Sascha Pfeiffer - her doorstep performance as she interviews a unrepentant pedophile priest was gripping- you could see her character aborb and adapt to the shocking information she's receiving while also not breaking her role as a journalist, and trying to squeeze as much information out of this monster while she has the opportunity. McAdams is juggling three different emotions and motivations all at the same time andit was captivating. With Emily on Amazon Prime Instant Video

March 26, 2016

The Money Pit Is Well Shot

Unwinding and watching The Money Pit this weekend, I appreciated how well it is shot, especially compared to other Tom Hanks comedies of the 80s, like The Burbs.
For example, there's one clever shot in The Money Pit where Anna and Max are haggling over a painting Anna wants to sell to Max. They walk down a Manhattan sidewalk, cross Park Avenue and East 56th Street, and enter a Mercedes dealership. The whole shot is done in one take from inside the showroom picture window (see screenshots). I exclaimed to Emily "this is shot like a Woody Allen movie!" and I was more right than I knew:
The Money Pit was shot by legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, who shot that extremely long take of Alvy (aka "Max") Singer and his friend Rob as they walk down a long stretch of East 66th Street in Annie Hall (12 blocks north and 9 years earlier).
Willis also shot a bunch more Woody Allen films, and some other famous movies, such as Klute, The Parallax View, Presumed Innocent, and The Godfather trilogy!
Meanwhile, I love The Burbs, but it's shot on Universal's "Wisteria Lane" back lot (of Desperate Housewives fame) and it looks like a overlit television show. Sure enough, it was shot by Robert M. Stevens, who has shot a handful of feature films, and a lot of television.


When the shot begins you can barely seen Anna and Max in the distance. Here they're crossing Park Avenue...

Stepping onto the sidewalk...

Entering the showroom...

...and into the Mercedes showroom, all in one shot.

March 19, 2016

Thunderball Re-Evaluated

I have always liked Sean Connery's underwater classic Thunderball. I suspect it's one of the Bond films that ABC used to show as their Movie of the Week on Sunday evenings? Last year I discovered it's not universally loved, while listening to the James Bonding podcast. So when a slew of Bond films became available for free (again) on Amazon Prime Video, I put my critical hat on and tried it again.
I have seen the movie many times but the plot is confusing when you pay attention to it, especially the first act:
In the cold open (before Tom Jones sings the terrific theme song), Bond attends the funeral of SPECTRE's Number 6, Jacque Bolvar, who has faked his death and then attends his own funeral in drag as his own grieving widow. Why does he risk this? Bond susses out the ruse, follows him home, and after a furniture-wrecking melee, murders Number Six. Bond recovers from his injuries (getting whacked by Number 6 with a fireplace poker) at a health clinic.
Hard to be intimidated by a supervillain
who drives a white Ford T-Bird convertible?
Meanwhile SPECTRE's Number 2, Emilio Largo, has hatched a scheme to steal an RAF bomber for its two atomic bombs, then extort millions from the world's governments. SPECTRE has recruited a pilot "Mr. Angelo" to undergo reconstructive surgery to mimic NATO pilot Major Francois Derval. Derval has been invited to fly on a RAF nuclear bomber. Mr. Angelo, face wrapped in bandages to conceal his "Derval" face, is at the same health clinic pretending to be recovering from a terrible car crash.
The actor who plays SPECTRE #5
also played Delbert Grady in The Shining.

Mr. Angelo visits Major Derval - where SPECTRE agent Fiona has been seducing him - kills the pilot, and replaces him. They bring Derval's corpse to the spa to complete the swap. It's just bad luck for SPECTRE (and clunky screenwriting for the movie) that James Bond is recuperating at the same clinic as your NATO impostor, but it's sloppy espionage to "sneak" a dead body into the clinic in an ambulance, under a red blanket?
Thunderball features Bond at his most predatory. The filmmaker's sexual philosophy seems to be "women don't want to have sex with Bond, but intercourse with Bond is so pleasurable to the woman, by forcing himself on them, he's doing the women a favor - 'you might not think you want to screw me, but you'll be thanking me later.'"
While recuperating at the spa, a SPECTRE agent attempts to kill Bond, but he's saved at the last moment by Pat the masseuse. Pat takes responsibility for the "accident", and Bond exploits this misunderstanding to extort sex from her in exchange for his silence. Thanks to the filmmakers' sexual philosophy, in the aftermath of this sexual bargain, Pat seems to have enjoyed this sex-for-silence deal.
The band (in the red vests) are "playing" their instruments
but the filmmakers forgot to add any music for this slow dance scene?

Some scattered thoughts and ideas while rewatching Thunderball:
  • I love that the front for SPECTRE's headquarters in Paris is the charitable "International Brotherhood for the Assistance of Stateless Persons" - an especially relevant cause during the Syrian migrant crisis of 2016!
  • Everybody in SPECTRE wears octopus signet rings, which seems to give away their membership in this secret cadre, so why do they wear them?
  • Every new car in the movie is a Ford or a Lincoln. Largo drives a white T-Bird convertible - in Paris no less - the redhead Fiona drives a sky-blue Mustang convertible, and Bond drives an enormous Continental while visting the Bahamas.
  • Great score, and good theme song sung enthusiastically by Tom Jones.
Love love Q's pineapple-print tropical shirt!





February 29, 2016

155 May Be February?

  1. "Policy of Truth" ∴ Depeche Mode
  2. "Making Time" ∴ The Creation, best known for its use in the movie Rushmore.
  3. "Kids" ∴ MGMT. Maybe I am fed up with this mode of soulless disaffected alt-rockers, as if they're too cool to care about what they're singing about. Also, this song is 5 minutes long? This song goes on way too long to be worth five whole minutes. I am cutting a radio edit in my mind right now...
  4. "I Don't Sleep, I Dream" ∴ From R.E.M.'s "rock guitars" record, the post-grunge Monster, the lyrics sound vaguely sexual but are unsexily performed half-spoken, half-falsetto.
  5. "Twentieth Century Boy" ∴ Great riff, and fine female backing chorus on this T.Rex glam gem.
  6. "Let's Dance" ∴ RIP David Bowie! My first reaction to his death was disbelief. I could hardly believe Bowie could do something as boring as die. Then I discovered his farewell album Blackstar made his death almost meaningful, and on his own terms. Looking back at "Let's Dance"- Terrific production from Nile Rodgers - I love the reverb on Bowie's voice, the woodblock percussion, and the horn-guitar riff. Of course, don't forget Stevie Ray Vaughn on lead guitar. A kickass party band played this song at our company kickoff party in January 2016.
  7. "Back On Top" ∴ Nice baritone harmonica riff on this Van Morrison song sounds almost like a saxophone.
  8. "Chains" ∴ The Beatles cover a Goffin/King song for their debut LP Please Please Me- I recently heard this song on the American Masters: Carole King PBS special.
  9. "Good Feeling" ∴ Flo Rida featuring Etta James. I did some research and the chorus of this Flo Rida hit single (#3 Hot 100 hit in 2011) samples the Etta James song "Something's Gotta Hold On Me", but Avicii's song "Levels", also samples the James song and is itself sampled, so does that make the Flo Rida a double-nested sample-sample?
  10. "Sour Girl" ∴ Stone Temple Pilots. Scott Weiland was so troubled I don't think anyone was surprised he finally succumbed to his drug demons.
  11. "Walk The Wire" ∴ A terrific guitar riff from Boy & Bear
  12. "The Last of the Famous International Playboys" ∴ Morrissey
  13. "Passionate Kisses" ∴ Mary Chapin Carpenter
  14. "Let 'em Say" ∴ Lizzo.  I heard this song in the pre-titles cold open of Season 3, Episode 1 of Broad City.
  15. "Random Name Generator" ∴ I am still bitter that my wife and I paid big bucks to go see Wilco  at the Solid Sound festival in 2015, but they played nothing from their upcoming "surprise" album Star Wars. I consider that festival, with its premium three-day weekend pricing, to be a special event for superfans, so it hurt my feelings that we were not treated to their new material.
  16. "The One Thing" ∴ I became a fan of INXS with the album Listen Like Thieves, and a superfan of their CD Kick, but now I'm trying to appreciate their earlier material.
  17. "Back to Black" ∴ I've been told the Amy Winehouse documentary AMY is really good, I gotta check it out.
  18. "Opening Up" ∴ Sara Bareilles. From the wonderful bound-for-Broadway musical Waitress, this opening number has a stomping 4-4 beat that reminds me of ELO's "Mr Blue Sky"...
  19. ...so I followed Bareilles with Jeff Lynne's "Lift Me Up" with a similar 4/4 beat.
  20. "Stoney End" ∴ I never would have imagined I'd include a Barbra Streisand song on a playlist. I am a rock and roller, and Streisand is a square Broadway singer - a middle-of-the-road pop singer at best! But then I fell down the AllMusic.com rabbit hole a few months ago and discovered Streisand dabbled in pop-rock in the early 1970s. "Stoney End", her note-for-note cover of a Laura Nyro song, was produced by Richard Perry and hit #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. (The song had previously been recorded by Rashida Jones's mother Peggy Lipton but failed to make the Hot 100 in 1968.) The subsequent eponymous LP went platinum.
  21. "Where You Lead" ∴ Carole King, from Tapestry