Last Christmas

Probably everyone goes through a part of their life when every decision we make is a bad one, no good turn goes unpunished, or simply we string together a series of hardships that make our lives seem worthless. I’ve heard that the holiday season is also the season where there is the most depression, because in part, we are surrounded by good feelings that we don’t share in as much. Sadness about lost opportunities and relationships get magnified by the cheerful goings on around us and as a consequence, the down feelings get exaggerated. Now, imagine that you have some of that sadness and you are immersed in Christmas all year long. That is the premise of this romantic comedy/drama starring Emilia Clarke.

Kate (Katarina as her Mother prefers) works in a shop that sells Christmas items all year long. Everyday she is dressed as an elf and encounters people who are in a good enough mood that they will shop for unusual Christmas ornaments, even in the summer. The problem is, a year before, Kate had a medical emergency. We are not told exactly what it was in the early part of the film because that would tip off some of the turn that is coming at the end. Frankly, when it did get revealed, I started to immediately wonder how it was going to connect everything. I will admit I went in a different direction in my thinking than the script does, but not too far away, so the story does have a bit of logic to it. I do think it is a bit of a cheat but I am very forgiving of those things with a movie that wants nothing more than to make you feel good. Anyway, Kate’s medical procedure has left her an em optional wreck, capable of doing dumb things and completely ignoring the destruction that is left in her wake.

In a way, this is another retelling of a “Christmas Carol”, where the spirit of the holiday is called on to redeem a person who has lost their way. Henry Golding plays Tom, a man who appears in Kate’s life and seems to be pointing her in some different directions. His character is not exactly the opposite of hers but in a ying/yang way he compliments her needs. Tom is meticulous, graceful and always looking for the bright side in things. The mess that Kate is making with her life needs some of that direction. Kate has friends but she is burning through them as a way of avoiding her Mother, an overprotective and equally thoughtless woman. Emma Thompson plays the mother, she also co-wrote the script for the movie. Her character could be a villain but it turns out she is just as lost and depressed as Kate is, just in different ways.

The movie is filled with characters that we can enjoy in small amounts without taking away from Kate’s story. The crew and clients at the homeless shelter where Kate ends up spending time are probably a little “too Hollywood” homeless, but it is a Christmas movie and we don’t want to be confronted too much with drugs and mental illness. Kate’s boss is one of the great pleasures of the film. Michelle Yeoh is “Santa” the owner of the shop where Kate works. She appears to be flinty and judgmental of Kate’s life, but it turns out she has deeper thoughts about Kate than anyone else has managed to express. She also just needs to be prompted to let her soft side out, and when it does come out, it is a joy.

Every year we get holiday films that try to move us and inspire us to be better people. This movie wants to be “Love Actually”, but it does not quite reach those heights. It does however try in a sincere way to be that kind of movie, and it’s shortcomings are small enough to be forgiven. “Last Christmas” may not be a perennial film for everyone, but it is pleasant enough to start the holiday season with. It also manages to make the Wham/George Michael song tolerable for an hour and forty minutes, and that is some kind of accomplishment.

 

The Mechanic Resurrection

Let’s get this out of the way up front. This movie should not exist. If the remake had followed the hard edged, cynical original that was the subject of one of my Charles Bronson posts last week, the lead character would not be around for a sequel. In updating, it might have made sense if his apprentice had survived and was now the lead character, but this does not sit right with me. But I went and saw it anyway because it had Jason Statham in it and they used the name from the previous title, so marketing works and I guess it’s my fault when the third one shows up in three or four years. Sorry everybody.

The movie is as lazy and tired as you expect it to be. Sure there are a lot of fight scenes but never any tension. Statham kills more people in this than Schwarzenegger killed in “Commando”. That does not make it any good. Hundreds of hired bad guys stand in front of his bullets and fists and they die. None has any interesting trait to them, they are like space invaders continuously moving forward to be destroyed in line.  The fights and shootouts are acrobatic but silly, and the CGI blood is tastefully splattered around but never on the hero. Oh, and here’s another thing, what the hell are they trying to do making Arthur Bishop a hero? He should be like  Parker/Porter from the Donald Westlake stories, a grim single minded individual with a sense of self entitlement that ignores the rest of the world (Did he do a Parker Film?). The film makers here try to make him sympathetic, with a love interest motivated by charity.

I like Jason Statham, but I think unless the role is tailored to him, he works better as a side character like in “Fast and Furious 7” or “Spy”.  “Death Race” and “The Bank Job” are two of his better roles although acting is least required behind the wheel in a mask. The silliness of the “Crank” series or “Transporter” is what they are getting with this film, instead a of a good character driven story. When Bishop is plotting the executions he is carrying out, that is when the movie feels like something, but as soon as it reverts to shootouts and fisticuffs, it’s just another yawner that kills time on a Saturday (or Holiday) afternoon.

The trailer above is more suspenseful and interesting than most of the movie. The poster below shows how little thought went into trying to market this. Jessica Alba is eye candy but sometimes gets called on to act and that is a mistake. Michelle Yeoh must not be getting much work, her character in this could have been played by anyone, no martial arts or bad ass attitude was required. Tommy Lee Jones shows up as a target at the end of the film. Fifteen years ago, he would have been the bad guy, now he is a plot device.

This movie is strictly for dopes like me who have a loyalty to a character brand, no matter how miss used it is, and a high level of tolerance for Statham killing everything in sight. I’m not sure I’d even say catch up with it on streaming, rental or cable, unless your alternative is “Independence Day Resurgence“, in which case, see this masterpiece instead.

Double O Countdown: Tomorrow Never Dies

A middling Bond is better than most other films, but still it is less than one might hope for. “Tomorrow Never Dies” is not a bad film, it just seems to be missing some of the things I like so much about 007 films. The romantic angle does not really work. The Villain is not particularly interesting, and James seems to struggle to make his witticisms work. I enjoy this movie, but it is not one of the films that i have seen more than a dozen times (probably only ten or so). With that said, here are the Double O Seven things I did like best about the film.

001  The one bad pun that actually works.

There is a horrible sequence where Bond and M are meeting in her car and they start trading quips. Moneypenny jumps in with a particularly leaden attempt to flirt and be clever. It is one of the most painful exchanges of dialogue I can think of in a Bond film. There is a much better piece of verbal humor later in the film. It still is a bit out of place, but it comes close to a line that I could imagine Sean Connery making work. As Bond and his Chinese counterpart are brought to the Saigon headquarters of media villain Elliot Carver, a giant banner with his image hangs off the building.

Bond’s comment: “Another Carver building. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he developed an edifice complex.”

002  Back Seat Driving

I suppose we should be wary, knowing where all the fancy car technology will lead Pierce Brosnan to in his final appearance as James Bond,  still this tool seems plausible. The Q provided BMW that James drives in Germany, can be operated by remote control in his cell phone. That gives him the chance to escape from the bad guys in the back seat of his car.

He launches a series of weapons at his pursuers that slow them down or stop them in their tracks. Included in the arsenal are road tacks, miniature rockets, a cable saw and the like.

The thing that seems to give him the biggest kick though is the simple out maneuvering of the chase cars with his own vehicle. The expression on his face here reminds us that there is a funny side to Mr. Bond that is not just bad double entendres.

003  “The Future Mr, Gittes, the future.”

Elliot Carver is a thinly disguised version of media mogul Robert Maxwell who had died mysteriously a few years prior.  The tabloid style and high tech trappings of the film are not too distant from some of the real life media demagoguery that we see these days. I enjoyed Carvers attempts to write and report stories, often before they happened.

The Future News Today. Carver as a character is blah, but the idea of media manipulation of the news is actually old school as he mentions William Randolph Hearst himself.

004  Joe Don Baker is back.

Big lug Jack Wade, Bond’s new CIA contact is back for his second film in a row. Baker was also in “The Living Daylights” as a different character. That means he was in three out of four Bond films in a decade.

Greeting his uniformed, counterpart an American Air Base in Asia, you can see the way we Yanks are having our chains yanked. Bond id fit, with great posture and clothes. Wade is a good ole boy with a gut, an informal manner, and n Aloha shirt that would fit nicely in my collection.

Wade may not be the model of cool that we would hope for an American spy, but he provides a nice touch of humor for James, in a style that the rest of the cast would not have been able to carry out.

005  HALO Jump

This was probably my first time hearing of this technique and it was a nicely effective sequence in the film.

Bond gets prepped by American intelligence personnel, and we get to have some exposition of the HALO strategy. A five mile free fall in a high altitude suit at a speed above terminal velocity, and then a quick release of the chute close to the ground.

A similar stunt is done in the rebooted Star Trek movie twenty years later.

006  A Chase sequence that is a little different.

Trying to get away from carver’s minions, Bond and Wai Lin, handcuffed together, grab a motorcycle and streak through the streets of Saigon. The varius cars that chase them fall away, but only as more and more eloborate escapeds are shot.

A helicopter joins the chase and the maneuverability of the motorbike suddenly loses much of it’s advantage. After all, the sky has no alleys that it has to take to follow the spies.

Sneaking past a helicopter flyng low requires being high. Fortunately for the two agents, they ended up on top of a building right across from another building of equal height.

A very impressive stunt.

After going high, our two heroes have to go low to finally get the best of the pursuers. It’s all a bit preposterous but it is a fun sequence.

007  Michelle Yeoh

The Chinese martial arts star is not much of a romantic counterpart to Bond, she and Brosnan just don’t seem to have that kind of chemistry, but in the action beats of the film she is aces.

Wall walking like Batman, except she walks down the wall rather than up. A jaunty wave at the more earthbound 007 gives her a little more personality.

She is an accomplished Martial arts star, so naturally she gets to kick some ass.  The best bit in the fight is a Jackie Chan like move where she walks up a wall, flips over her opponent and reverses their situations.

It was a terrific moment that we needed more of in this adventure.

James Bond Will return in:

“The World is Not Enough”