The Mechanic (August 28th, 2016)
Director: Simon West
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, and Tony Goldwyn
I’m usually in the bag for a Statham movie. I haven’t seen all of his flicks, and I’m sure some of the earlier starring roles aren’t all winners. But I’ve had a pretty good run with him so far, enjoying all his stuff for the most part. He’s got a stoic demeanor but a sense of humor about it, a wry little wit to him. The athleticism is something to behold, setting him apart from his 80s archetype brethren. This isn’t a muscle bound gun toting maniac, but a thinker with the talent to lay you down with the weapons the good lord gave him at birth. So with the release this recent weekend of a sequel to a movie he made that I hadn’t seen, I felt it was a good enough time to see this flick. And as usual, it was a very entertaining flick. Now, it isn’t the best of the best with Statham. It’s a little more middle of the road fare for him, never really rising above to deliver anything exceptional. A baseline “pretty solid” is kept throughout. Which isn’t a bad thing, but leaves a little to be desired. It’s because the skeleton of the movie is pretty solid, but it doesn’t dive too deeply into them. Being a remake of an older Charles Bronson movie, it takes the same shape of that (so I’m told, having not seen it). But in the 30+ years since that movies release, they could have maybe dug into the plot to heighten the more genre elements. Statham plays a hitman with a code (as usual) who is tasked with killing his mentor (Sutherland) after their boss reveals that Sutherland is a traitor. When Sutherlands fuck up of a son, Foster, comes back into town for the funeral with a bit of murder in his heart, Statham takes it upon himself to rescue the man from himself and put him to work as a hitman in training. Which in and of itself could be cool, delving into the morality at play in the hitman game and the sense of duty Statham has to his old friend. Foster’s arc, of the reckless man unable to deal with the structures of life and always blowing up a good thing while dealing with the grief of his fathers death is interesting. And all of this stuff is in there and adds a little color to the flick. But I wanted it to dive into it more. Really dig into it and heighten the emotions at play, as subdued they are in Stathams case or as explosive as they are in Fosters. But whatever, at least they put the kind of thought into this kind of movie to begin with. As usual with Statham, this isn’t an action scene a minute kind of movie. It feels like it’s a real movie, telling a complete story that punctuates itself with the violence. And it’s decent enough stuff, real hard hitting stuff that’s a bit undercut by Simon Wests desire to shoot in a shaky cam style. The good ole spectre of the 2000s action curse. Statham is good as usual, although this character isn’t as well defined as many of his others. It’s a pretty stock hitman role, only elevated by that Statham thing. Foster is really good, bringing to life the fuck up with evil in his heart. It’s a bit of a louder rehearsal for his role in the recent Hell or High Water. Sutherland is as Sutherland as he can be in his brief screentime, at least making us like the guy before he bites it. Goldwyn is slimy enough to play the shit heel boss that betrays Statham. And the ending is pretty good in my opinion, as it shows that Statham is a well prepared guy but isn’t some comically foresight having guy. He doesn’t expect all this to happen, but he’s smart enough to keep his eyes open and have a backup plan. For those that want a solidly entertaining action flick that takes its plot seriously and has some low key/personal stakes to it, you could do much worse. Statham fans should enjoy. Others probably will too, but the gap is bigger for those uninitiated.
Stir Crazy (August 29th, 2016)
Director: Sidney Poitier
Starring: Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Barry Corbin, and Craig T. Nelson
I wasn’t planning on watching this movie on this day. I was gonna watch Dolemite, but fate struck out a blow to the world that changed my plans. Gene Wilder was taken from us, saddening everyone who had been blessed by his genius. So, basically everyone. I had this movie in the stack of unseen movies, so it was about time to give it a crack. A classic comedy from the duo of Wilder and Pryor, my choices could be much worse. Sadly to say, it wasn’t the greatest comedy in the world. It’s not actually that laugh out loud funny. It’s aged a bit poorly, it’s style that was edgy in the 80s being way too stodgy for todays day. The jokes aren’t really well done or written. It feels like a first draft at a much better movie. Having Pryor and Wilder get wrongfully convicted of a bank robbery they didn’t commit should lead to loads of laughs. Seeing as how it led to a really funny Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence movie in Life, these two guys should have crushed it. But alas, they didn’t really. I can see where Murphy/Lawrence and co were able to make a much better movie out of things. But while this isn’t exactly funny, I enjoyed the movie. Mainly due to the chemistry of Pryor and Wilder. They may not have got me gut busted, but they are just a blast to watch. You can tell they like each other and it helps out alot. The story, which is basically like Life mixed together with The Longest Yard and a dash of a prison escape movie, it’s a little too complicated and simplistic at the same time to really work on the basic narrative level. It’s all so convenient and easy. They’re time in jail is immensely easy and the danger is never really felt. Getting arrested felt forced, just kind of happening. The set up for bull riding is silly, as is the breakout plan during the big show. They’re also given free passes way too easily. That’s probably the biggest problem with the movie. It’s all too easy. For a movie so long to be so drama free is weird, even for a comedy. Something should happen. And not much really does. It could have been trimmed a bit and maybe spiced up with a little more humor. The characters could have been strengthened a bit too. Wilder is a way too dumb and naive, with Pryor being too undefined with only a slight bit of cowardice being his only trait really. Doesn’t help that Pryor never really shined as an actor the way he did on stage. Wilder really helped him out alot, making him better than he probably would have been. Especially if you know how drugged out he was making it. Honestly, it may not be the best movie to watch in honor of Wilder as he’s done much better. Probably should have watched Willy Wonka, as that hasn’t been seen by me (it can’t be worse than Burtons candy coated coat hanger abortion). And I am going to see Mel Brooks present Blazing Saddles at Radio City Music Hall this coming Thursday. So I’m gonna be well stocked on Gene Wilder honors.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (September 2nd, 2016)
Director: Pete Hewitt
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, and George Carlin
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie, but I remember loving it. As a kid, it’s the one of the series that I saw the most. But then as time went on, it’s the one I saw the least. For some reason, it just wasn’t on TV as much as the first one and it’s home video presence was minimal. Hell, I remember being around 12 and Pizza Hut was doing a promotion that basically was a DVD with a meal. This was one of those movies and I basically pleaded with my parents to get Pizza Hut just this once so I could get the movie. That’s how hard it was for me to find, although I wasn’t the most industrious dude in the land. And as I got older and acquired money, therefore acquiring more Blu rays, this was a big hole in my collection. The first one came out, but not this. Until the home video heroes called Shout Factory decided to bless us with a set that collected both movies and added a ton of new special features, in addition to upgrading the A/V presentation. Now with it in my grasp, I can safely say that my love for this movie is not a relic of my youthful naïveté. No, this is a legitimately great comedy and the rare comedy sequel that tops the original. It’s similar to Back To The Future II in the sense that it’s a much bigger and weirder tale set in the universe, but it’s not as indebted to the first one the way BTTF was. It moves forward and goes bigger without sacrificing what makes the series work. These two lovable dolts finding themselves inside of a wacky fantasy story that takes them through all different kinds of locales. But this time it isn’t time travel they find themselves in. It’s the afterlife. So going from ghosts to being damned to hell to playing the reaper for a chance at life all the way back to fight for their lives. And oh man, the story is so much more ridiculous and outlandish and so uncaring for the sense it makes. Having two evil robot versions of Bill and Ted give Reeves and Winter the chance to really show off a bit and show us how special their performances are as the titular characters. They’re so comfortable in the roles and it makes the humor come so much faster and harder. The humor is much sillier and, to me, smarter in it’s stupidity. I seriously couldn’t stop smiling and laughing the entire time. It’s such a light hearted and easy going affair, even in the face of it’s hilariously convoluted premise. And for how silly and (willfully) stupid it can be, you can’t say the filmmakers are stupid. How can a movie that so expertly and absurdly riffs on The Seventh Seal be stupid? Not to mention that it allows us the pleasure of William Sadler playing the reaper, which is seriously one of the funniest comedic performances I’ve seen. He starts off so stern and Bergman serious as the reaper, but slowly reveals himself to be a petty and goofy guy who can’t beat our guys at simple board games but also likes to give melvins to the bad guys. I really can’t praise this movie enough. It just moves so quickly and is packed to the gills with jokes, making it one of the most pleasing comedies in modern times. I seriously love this movie and wish more movies would take a cue from it. This is how you do sequels right and how you tackle high concept comedies. Seriously perfection.
Saving Mr. Banks (September 3rd, 2016)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, and Bradley Whitford
This may not be the most historically accurate movie ever made, seeing as how the Walt Disney Company made a movie where it’s founder is a major character. So it’s safe to say it’s not taking any narrative risks by making Walt look bad. But honestly, historical accuracy isn’t the most important thing here. They go for as much as they can to make it feel off the time, in both of its time periods, but it’s the feeling and emotions it’s trying to wring out that is important. Focusing on the writer of the Mary Poppins books (Thompson) as she tries her damnedest to dissuade Disney (Hanks) from adapting her book to the big screen, we see why the books are so important to her. Why she doesn’t want someone to get hold of the character that she loves so dearly and why she is such a miserable wretch to anyone involved in bringing it to life. And it all has to do with her youth, something that has been haunting her for life and has informed her book. The life/death of her father (Farrell) as he succumbs to Alcoholism and then, eventually, tuberculosis in a life as a feckless dreamer. We see why all the elements she is fighting for are important to her, and why she has the stuffy demeanor and highly specific distastes that she does. It all ties back to the highly traumatic tragedy as a kid in Australia, with a lady that would be the basis for Poppins. But whereas the real life led to sadness, she used her book to make the fantasy outcome. And it’s what she is fighting for. It’s way too personal for her and she can’t imagine anyone understanding that. But Walt isn’t the simple huckster she thinks he is. In a wonderful scene, we get to see that he understands it all too well. That’s why he connect to it so. Not just because he promised his daughters he’d adapt it. It hits home in a much more profound way. That we all wish we could go back an fix the problems of our parents. So when she finally relents and allows the movie to be made, she isn’t 100% in love with the end product. But the essence is there to make her highly emotional. Hell, I even got a bit misty. But don’t think that this is some dour movie. It’s actually got light hearted and charming with some dips into sadness, a very Disney move. The cast is fantastic. Thomson is superb, making the very crotchety woman understandably cranky but also likable enough to not be villainous. Hanks is fantastic as Disney, selling the highly evolved child he is but also showing us that he is a much more shrewd/mature man than you would think based on his art. Farrell does good work as the at first idealized father who is revealed to be fatally flawed. It’s a finely made movie that offers a charming glimpse into the making of a classic. While not some deep dive into history, it’s an engrossing tale that uses a true story to give show us that the past doesn’t have to haunt us and we can expel the demons in our art.