Glass

I’m afraid I feel compelled to start my comments here with a bad joke. My opinion on this film is not as clear as a pane of…oh, you know.  There was a lot that I liked about the concept, set up and visualizations here, but there are plot holes, trails not followed and an ending that is frustratingly opaque. “Glass” should be better than it is, but in many ways I don’t think it can. M. Night Shyamalan has created a set up for his super hero epic, but stops short of committing to the characters he created to continue his mythologizing of comic books. I suspect a lot of people will be pissed off at this.

I was a fan of “Unbreakable” when it arrived 19 years ago. The notion that a sequel might be coming was appealing but not essential to me. I pretty much got the point of that story and it felt complete. After pitting out with some films that are reviled by film fans, Shyamalan seemed to redeem himself with an effective thriller with “Split” two years ago. In a surprise, as the film was wrapping, it is revealed that this story was taking place in the same world as “Unbreakable” and it set up this sequel with just a little bit of effort. The problem he now faced is making that set up pay off.

To begin with, the return of Bruce Willis in a film by Shyamalan is promising. A couple of hours before going to see this, I watched the “Death Wish” remake from last year. Willis seemed to be sleepwalking through that part, but here he feels more invested and his grizzled beard and careworn face match the super hero character in the shadows that he is representing.  The opening section of this film re-establishes his David Dunn as “The Overseer” a mysterious vigilante who punishes lawbreakers and tries to protect those in jeopardy. David works in conjunction with his son, who has become the guy in the headset to his father’s avenger. I think a stand alone story of David’s life as this character would have worked pretty well a decade ago. It would also give us a chance to see how important the discovery of a real superhero would be to a community. Alas, we only get the most effective scenes in this movie, the stalking of the neighborhood in search of “the Horde”, and the rescue of four potential victims of “the Beast”. Having the grown actor who played David’s son Joe in “Unbreakable” return to be his partner works well and gives a sense of continuity to a story with a nineteen year gap.

James McAvoy repeats his impressive trick of channeling multiple personalities through the one body that we know exists. There is a little bit more of a carnival trick to the performance in this film with the rapidity with which he must change characters. It’s almost like a voice over actor, doing all of the characters they voice, in a conversation. It is amazing, but it does feel a bit like a trained seal act. One of the drawbacks of the script is that we never really get to understand this character because it changes so often, Just as we start to get a sense of motivation, the personality switches and it becomes cloudy as to why things are happening. “the Beast” becomes a coherent character at one point, rather than just the monster that all the others were in fear of. If this is the dominant personality and it took complete control, maybe our interest level would be a bit higher.

This is a very talky picture. While in the first section of the movie, there are a couple of action scenes, the second act is all slow burn set up with Samuel Jackson’s Mr. Glass playing a somnambulist villain, lying in wait to spring his plan. Shyamalan is honest enough to leave a trail of bread crumbs so that the twists of the escape and subsequent confrontation are justified, but there in lies the problem.  Having been so meticulous with laying that groundwork, he turns right around and violates that trust with another pivotal character. The fourth lead in this story turns out to be a critical element of the climax of the film, but that is not set up at all. What appears on the surface to be a passive agenda of discovery turns out to be the main plot of the film and it just doesn’t work well.

As I dance around spoilers and sharing reveals, it is a little difficult to ignore some plot holes that might foreshadow the twist. The psychiatric institution that the characters all occupy, is the least populated facility you can imagine. The security for supposedly dangerous individuals is nearly non-existent. Maybe that will all be explained away by the films’s advocates as a deliberate act in the twist, but it just looks like it is slapdash storytelling to me. For a guy who has spent 19 years in prison heavily sedated, Mr. Glass has programming skills that are just a little too neat. Finally, be careful here, this may be TMI: the idea that an on-line video will spark a shift in paradigms, rather than ten thousand deconstructions is simply not realistic.

Unlike in his previous work, where the twist endings have been earned [whether you liked them or not], the ending here feels like a cheat. It also includes a downer moment that will deflate fans of super hero movies and stories. I can’t say that the idea that the three films in this series are all an origin story doesn’t make sense. From a comic book perspective it probably does. I just doubt that there will be any subsequent use of that idea, because the audience is not likely to make an investment in something that is shoveled on them in the last ten minutes of a six plus hour journey they have taken. I suppose though that this is where the ultimate controversy will rest. My enthusiasm however  is mostly exhausted.

Shane Black and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang/The Long Kiss Goodnight

This is designed to make all the bloggers out there jealous. An evening with two Shane Black films and Shane Black himself. Since it is the Christmas Season, it only seems appropriate that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the main feature here. If you haven’t had enough of the question whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, get ready for the encore with this sour seasoned greeting. It is a delicious mixture of violence, comedy and tragedy, all told around the Christmas Holiday. It will certainly not be everyone’s favorite pudding, but it will make a lot of people laugh at the holiday season and remember why they hate the holidays.

I love seeing films at the Egyptian and the American Cinematique has created some great programming for the month of December, including a new 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia which a certain youngest child and I will most certainly be taking in during the upcoming break. Tonight however is all about the marvelous Robert Downey Jr./Val Kilmer action comedy. Written and directed by Shane Black.

From the beginning, I was reminded that I love this movie for it’s idiosyncrasies. The titles are animated with shadow graphics and in a flash back sequence we see young Harry (The RDJ character) in his magician mode. The second character in this sequence who plays a major role later in the film is a little girl who grows up to be Harmony (the Michelle Monaghan character). That we pass the next twenty years in a few brief seconds is one of the marvels of how movies can be told.

The accidental nature of Harry’s arrival in Hollywood and the guilt that trials him sets up the rest of the plot. This is a plot that is pretty complicated and may at times leave some gaps that are never completely filled. The Choice by Black to keep moving forward without lingering too much over the dangling threads is one of the things that keeps the film from getting bogged down in logical consistency at the expense of narrative drive.   When “Gay Perry” is introduced and becomes a foil for Harry for the rest of the film, we get a buddy comedy layered on top of a modern noir. Val Kilmer may not have had as good a role as this in the last fifteen years, and he was great.

The big question that film fans have concerns what is Black’s thing about Christmas. Most of his films are set around the holiday and make explicit references to it. As he explained, “”it’s like falling asleep in the back seat of the car with your father driving and singing a tune as the lights flash past your window. It is a feeling of childhood security knowing your Dad is taking care of you. When you get to L/A. The Christmas references are different, a broken figure of a saint or lighting that looks slightly out of place, but it’s still Christmas. It’s a culturally shared experience.” He credits “Three Days of the Condor” with inspiring the Christmas motif in his films.

Black was modest and honest in describing his freshman directorial effort. He was happy to give credit to improvements in the dialogue to actors who improvised during rehearsal. He also noted that some of the photographic effects were a result of accident rather than planning. He uses the term “running and gunning” as the description of their filming schedule. One person asked if he had plans to film any other movies with different holidays and he joked about his time bomb race against the clock set during Breast Cancer Awareness week. There was also a question about the design of the story being a reverse “Chinatown” where the incest angle is different and not what you think it is going to be. “Every assumption you make is wrong and at the end you are faced with an old man bedridden that you beat on.”

The second film on the program was “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and he frankly admitted that he wrote it alone in part as a way of coping with some depression. He was complimentary about director Renny Harlin but admitted there were some things that he would change about the film, which is one of the reasons he wanted to direct himself.

He strongly advised us to stick around for the second feature, which only about a third of the audience did, but we were rewarded with a great over the top serving of 90s action film that featured Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. He debunked the notion that the plot has any 9/11 foreshadowing, as he put it, “it’s just a movie.”

Both films were on 35mm but Black’s parting comment was that 35mm bows in the middle and is fuzzy, so he is happy with digital projection.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Video is NSFW)

Normally on this site we try to keep it at a PG-13 for the readers. If it is something I am writing, than I want it to be in my voice and I use vulgar language in a fairly narrow spectrum of circumstances. The trailer above however is an accurate reflection of the vulgarity and coarseness of the interactions in the film we are talking about here, so if you can’t guess how the maestro of the “MF” word does in this film, the clip will give you plenty to chew on. Reynold’s character actually suggests that Jackson is single-highhandedly ruining the word.

This kind of movie is mostly bulletproof. It is not critic friendly, it will be obvious as to what is going to happen, and it will offend a few people both intentionally and unintentionally. It will also entertain you for a couple of hours while you enjoy a refreshing beverage and some popcorn in a cool theater on a hot day. I prefer my popcorn with a good amount of butter flavoring and then I dump in a box of Hot Tamales to sweeten things up. The popcorn taste, mixed with the sweet but spicy candy is solid, but as the candy gets coated with the butterflavoring it adds an extra texture to the treat. If you are dieting, you should not go to see this film, because it demands that you consume things that are not good for you but taste delicious.

Mosaic electronic poster at Hollywood Achlight

Ryan Reynolds has become a very successful film star, although his most successful film is also one of his most recent. “Deadpool” has a few things in common with this movie, an irreverent sense of humor and a willingness to go for big action, but otherwise they are very different films. Samuel L. Jackson could make this movie in his sleep. He simply brings his usual bravado and colorful vocabulary and supplements it with the kind of gleeful violence we used to get from “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. The premise is simple, a professional bodyguard ends up trying to protect a contract killer that has crossed his path before. This is a bickering buddy film, each character has quirks that make them appealing and repulsive, and we spend a lot of time with the two of them togeteher matching insults.

If there is a pretender to the crown of “Most Colorful Cursing in the Movies”, it might be the character played by Selma Hayek in this film, plus she does it bi-bilingually. If you ever feel a bit overwhelmed by the language, let me suggest some Junior Mints to go along with the popcorn. A refreshing mint might take the edge off of the palate enough that you can tolerate a few more curse words, in at least two languages.

Now leaving the snack bar menu for a bit and talking about the movie, I will say there are a couple of things that were nice about the film. The locations for the last act are in Amsterdam and take advantage of the city’s quaint architecture and street layouts. There may have been an Alister MacLean film that used the canals of Amsterdam for a chase, I have a vague childhood memory, but it was certainly not as elaborate a chase scene as we get here. The integration of  boats, cars and motorcycles made for a terrific sequence. The main problem is that there are at least two more car chase scenes after this and neither is as exciting. Gary Oldman is in this thing collecting a paycheck and playing another evil villain. His part is so underwritten that when he gets to the big moral equivocation his character launches into, we are already laughing before Samuel Jackson does.

Mostly, I’m just filling space here. There are some moral qualms you can have about using genocide as a plot point in a comedy, and the use of vehicles as terror weapons may be offensive as well. This movie is too silly to take seriously. Go get a refill on your Dr. Pepper or other beverage of choice. Don’t worry about missing anything while you are gone, they will still be cracking wise and shooting crap up when you get back. As a matter of fact, you might want to go to the bathroom as well.

Jackie Brown “Walt Sent Me” Podcast

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https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8427804?autoplay=false                                         I am a guest on this great podcast with Kristen Lopez and Todd Liebenow. We talk Disney News, discuss the Cartoon Short “Who Killed Cock Robin?” and worship at the alter of Pam Grier. Listen in, I think you will really enjoy it.

The Legend of Tarzan

As a character, Tarzan has been around for more than a hundred years. He is nearly as old as another literary creation of the era, Sherlock Holmes. It was inevitable I suppose that with the new digital technology at their fingertips, someone was going to do a new version of the Tarzan story. Robert Downey Jr. gets to be Ironman and Sherlock Holmes, but the new millennium and the nature of the character probably suggest that the new Tarzan be a different face, an actor who is competent but not well established as a star.  Enter Alexander Skarsgård, a handsome man with solid credits on high quality television programs and some supporting parts in other films. This is his chance to step up and become a star, if he can manage to sell us on the idea that he is an enlightened British Lord who started his life as an adopted member of a troop of Great Apes. It’s a tall order to fill but he manages to do a credible job for a couple of reasons. First of all, Tarzan is not a character known for eloquence. He is not unsophisticated because as Lord Greystoke, he is a member of the House of Lords, but as the child of a savage world without humans for the most part, he has learned to communicate in subtle, non-verbal ways. Skarsgård, may have the fewest lines of the four major characters in the film, but it is not really noticeable because he says so much with his actions. Second, he is a close doppelganger for the young version of Christopher Lambert, who made his debut on the international film stage in the same character vehicle.

In a way, his resemblance to Lambert connects the two films that were made 32 years apart. Had “Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” been a bigger success, this could easily have been the follow up film. A large section of the 1984 film, was devoted to the origin story of Tarzan. This film pays homage to that story but does not make it the focal point of the film. The structure of “The Legend of Tarzan” is mostly a straightforward narrative with occasional flashback sequences to provide exposition and context. It’s a rather effective way of including the origin story without belaboring it. As a result, this movie feels fairly fresh and works as a stand alone episode in the story of our jungle pulp hero. The difference in tone is important. Unlike the Johnny Weissmuller films, which are  somewhat campy adventure stories, the Greystoke film of 84 sought to probe more deeply into what distinguishes man from beast. It had a solemn message about the savagery of colonial times but also about the duality of Lord Greystoke/Tarzan. This film touches ever so briefly on the later and spends most of it’s time on the former. The plot concerns the exploitation of Africa bu European powers that are willing to use unscrupulous methods to achieve their objectives. Naturally, Tarzan stands in the way. Some of the 50s and 60s version of the Tarzan tale told the same kind of story.  “The Legend of Tarzan” takes the colonial period in Africa and uses it much like a James Bond thriller, with a plot to enslave a whole country by an evil figure being thwarted by our hero, while at the same time he saves the woman he loves. It’s pretty good stuff but not very deep.

 

The three other main characters also bring something to the table that make this version of the legend even more successful. Quinton Taratino’s favorite German actor of the last decade, is cast in another villainous role. After “Inglorious Basterds”, he has been the heavy in a half dozen films. Most recently Christoph Waltz was the featured antagonist of James Bond in SPECTRE.  I’m fine with him collecting a paycheck but I hope he is able to expand his resume a little more. In this movie he is Leon Rom, an envoy of the King of Belgium, tasked with gaining access to the riches of the Congo, and using a plot against Lord Greystoke to do so. His scenes with Tarzan’s mate when she is his prisoner, have a suitably creepy tone to them. There is one good moment where his eyes and voice express admiration for Jane, and for a moment he feels like a human and not just a cardboard bad guy, although he plays that cliched role well. Margot Robbie seems to have come out of nowhere in the last couple of years and is on the verge of exploding into mega stardom, if she can act as well as she looks a part. She will soon be Harley Quinn in a series of D.C. comic book movies and that will add fuel to the fire of her career.In this film she was solid. There was a great degree of sexual chemistry between her and Skarsgård. Tarzan and Jane look and sound like a couple who are in love and actually care about one another. Each is given an opportunity to show the desire they have for their partner in a non-lascivious way. She also gets some action scenes and as the dialogue intentionally lampoons, she is not just a damsel in distress.

The final major star of the film is somewhat surprising. What Samuel L. Jackson is doing in this film is not entirely clear. A black Doctor, as an envoy from the government of the United States personally selected by President Benjamin Harrison, he is an anachronism that defies story telling with one exception, he brings his personality to the movie. Jackson is a frequent spark plug for a moment of humor or dramatic intervention in the film. Amazingly enough, he manages to do this without once using the word that he is the foremost practitioner of in movie dialogue. It is frequently said that Samuel L. Jackson simply plays Samuel L. Jackson when he is cast, but I see differences in his tone and personality from film to film that do make his characters more distinctive. Just as in “The Hateful Eight”, he is a Civil War veteran in this movie. Major Marcus Warren was a malevolent and hateful character, but George Washington Williams is sad and hopeful. The way he handles his six guns in this movie are completely different that the Tarantino chamber piece from last Christmas. The tone here is light and fun and he seems to care for humanity rather than despise it. I think you have to be a pretty good actor to sell the misanthrope of last year and the heroic side kick in this picture. Jackson does so and the movie benefits as a result. 

The look of the film is accomplished, blending CGI jungles and mountains with real backgrounds to effectively give the movie a sense of scope. Director David Yates, who did the last four Harry Potter films, is accomplished at moving exposition along with the action. That ability serves him well with this picture. While I might still prefer the Rick Baker ape make-up and costumes, the CGI animals in this film are impressive and make the impossible possible on film. I could have used more practical vine swinging, the CGI in these sequences draws attention to itself, but most modern audiences will accept it easily. 

I really wanted this film to be good, but after an early trailer, I thought it might end up as a special effects laden mess. I was pleasantly surprised and quite pleased with the results. I was out of town last week when it opened and I tried not to read anything about it. I did hear a few positive words from some media sources but they only raised my fear threshold. As it turns out, “The Legend of Tarzan” is a respectable addition to the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs on film and a mid summer treat that I would encourage anyone to see, but especially those who like the pulp characters of the past and want to see them live on to the future.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

This is one of those meta experiences that so often crop up in films these days. It is a film about spies that references James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, yet it engages in the same over the top story telling and effects that it is simultaneously lampooning. Having done the same thing to Fairy Tales with “Stardust” and Comic Books with “Kick Ass”, director Matthew Vaughn now turns to a new genre with this hyper violent exercise in adrenaline based movies. Oh, and just so you know, he pulls it off brilliantly.

The opening credits will make you giggle with the use of exploding pieces of an ancient fort, blowing onto the screen to form the credit titles. All of this is scored with Dire Straights “Money for Nothing”, yeah that’s the way you do it. Colin Firth is is Harry Hart, codename Galahad, an agent of the privately organized intelligence and espionage agency that borrows from every cartoon spy film of the sixties and makes the idea of a gentleman spy come to life. Firth was once imagined as a James Bond replacement, and the fact that his boss “Arthur” is played by Michael Caine, the working class Bond of the Harry Palmer films, makes the whole thing even more delicious.

Newcomer Taron Egerton plays the hard knock, working class son of an earlier protege of Galahad, rough around the edges but ready to be polished. Early parts of the movie and recurring sequences focus on the recruitment and testing process of likely “Kingsman” material. As the job interview begins, a threat to the world by well meaning but crazy billionaire tech guru Valentine, sends the regular agents out in the field to investigate. Samuel Jackson plays a George Soros/Al Gore hybrid with a distinct lisp and an aversion to seeing the violence that he himself wants. As Hart crosses swords with Valentine, they engage in a parody of cliches from most spy movies of this variety. In their interactions they even discuss the Bond films that feature megalomaniac rich guys who play villain to the English spy, and they both play with those roles effectively.

If your liberal sensibilities are easily offended, you may want to stay away from this. Jackson’s character is a rich genius with an evil plan to save the world from global warming. He attempts to recruit influential leaders and celebrities from around the world to be part of his new world order. Visualize the Socialist/Green/Celebrity Environmentalists as the dupes that will populate the Earth like Drax’s genetic specimens in “Moonraker” or Stromberg’s mermen in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. This is the biggest drubbing of liberal sacred cows since “Team America”. The Kingsman might seem reactionary to some, invoking as they do the names of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They even use a piece of equipment supposedly part of the loathed Strategic Defense Initiative [referred to as the Star Wars satellite system] to fight back against the plans of the villain.

Since Star Wars does get mentioned here, it is fun to note that a nearly unrecognizable Mark Hamill appears as a kidnapped scientist. Mark Strong, who has been in most of Vaughn’s previous films, plays “Merlin” the aide de camp to the Kingsman.  There also seems to be a CGI version of an American Leader with prominent ears, who plays along with the scheme. At this point some audience members heads will explode, but hold on because that will not be the end of the fireworks. This movie also parodies the Westboro Baptist church crazies, the aristocrats of Great Britain, and dog lovers everywhere. Some of the humor is broad, such as the meal served by the suspected billionaire to the agent posing as another billionaire. It is either biting satire or great product placement.

The young leads get to take over the action at the end and they are just as effective as Firth was in his moments of glory ( or maybe I should say gory). This movie takes “Kick Ass” violence to new levels with some sick jokes mixed in. Imagine the damage a flying marital artist with razor sharp blades for feet can do, and then expect to see it on the screen. The slow mo, fast action styles explored in other films of this ilk are used here to good effect, but if you are over that approach, there are plenty of other bits of violence to delight you.

In all honesty, this is a movie that was genetically designed to tickle my funny bone and stimulate my adrenal glands. If “Kick Ass” and “James Bond” had a love child, this would be it. The film never takes itself too seriously but sometimes it plays with that idea as well. There is classic rock on the soundtrack, Colin Firth, Samuel Jackson and Michael Caine on the screen, and there is enough violence for ten movies. I was in love with this film when it was being hatched in the minds of the comic book artist who created the concept and the person who is responsible for putting Matthew Vaughn in charge. To quote Harry Hart: “Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson”. I consider myself well schooled after seeing this.