Friday, September 10, 2010

Penny Thoughts: August 3-9

The Runaways (2010) ***
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Writers: Floria Sigismondi, Cherie Currie (book)
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures
Yes, “The Runaways” tells that same old rock and roll biopic story, in this case the rise and fall of Cherie Currie, a rise that starts at age 15 and falls just a few years later. I like it, however, due to the fact that the filmmakers did not feel the need to fill their movie with unnecessary expositional dialogue explaining everything. In many ways, this is a movie of moods and pretty pictures. Director Floria Sigismondi is not afraid to focus on the underage sexuality of Currie and the slightly older Joan Jett. Since this played a great role in their success, it’s a good choice. Most of all it made me want to go out and grab The Runaways’s music and Joan Jett’s early albums. When it comes to a music bio pic, you really can’t ask for more than selling the music.

Back to the Future, Part II (1989) ***
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers:  Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Elizabeth Shue

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
I know a good deal of people see the second in the “Back to the Future” series as a mess. It’s a movie that has a primary purpose of bridging the two storylines of the first film and the third. However, I’ve always found it quite ingenious how writer Bob Gale is able to cut, paste, and erase character and plot details, seemingly on the fly as the story rockets along. Yes, there are too many ideas about time travel and parallel realities mashed together in a movie that is hung on the plots of its predecessor and its sequel, but the script really misses little. If you pay attention, it does a rather good job of tidying little details about Marty’s re-cast girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue), the absence of Crispin Glover (who was offered a larger role than the script contains, but declined to return), Doc Brown’s ever changing age, etc. All the while it gets all the set up for the third trip out of the way, so that film isn’t bothered with all the time travel theory and character shuffling and everyone can relax and just have a good time for the final romp.

Wyatt Earp (1994) ***½
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Dan Gordon
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Dave Anderson, Linden Ashby, Jeff Fahey, Joanna Going, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I feel the Kevin Costner version of the story of lawman Wyatt Earp is superior to “Tombstone”, released just six months before Costner’s “Wyatt Earp”. Yes, it’s longer and the gunfights are less spectacular, but it tells what feels like a real story of an American icon, while “Tombstone” feels more like the television popcorn version. But then, I suppose a lot of people don’t have the patience for a 3 and a half hour movie.

The film took a lot of flack for downplaying the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. I’ve seen it 4 or 5 times at this point, and it seems to be a fairly well done cinematic gunfight to me. It’s made the centerpiece of the movie because Lawrence Kasdan chooses to open the movie with the lead up to that particular gunfight, but the gunfights are not what this movie is about. It’s more about the Earps as a family, Wyatt in particular in how family duty shaped him into the rather cold-hearted man he was. Costner is a good choice for the role, and Dennis Quaid is even better as Doc Holiday. His Holiday was sick with tuberculosis, while Val Kilmer’s Holiday in “Tombstone” was merely an interesting character with a medical condition. But, to each his own.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009) **
Director/Writer: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliot, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Michael Kelly, Kim Shaw, David Call, Wilfred Brimley

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures
You know, somehow I still find Hugh Grant to be surprisingly funny. He can deliver a dry punchline like no other. “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” is not a good movie, but it did make me laugh more than I expected it to. That was mostly due to Grant. The city folk out of water and into the country comedy beat has been done to death, and for the most part here, it drags. But there are some moments captured by Grant and Mary Steenburgen here that got me cackling a bit. I wanted to see more of the Elisabeth Moss character as well. But then, most people who have seen Elisabeth Moss want to see more of her, even if they don’t know it. Just ask anyone who watches “Mad Men”.

Last Tango in Paris (1972) *½
Director: Bernardo Bertoluci
Writers: Bernardo Bertoluci, Franco Arcalli, Agnes Varda (French dialogue)
Starring: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Leaud

Image courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment
Art house bullshit. Just a bunch of drivel. I don’t care if it’s supposed to be a classic.

Death at a Funeral (2010) **½
Director: Neil LaBute
Writer: Dean Craig
Starring: Keith David, Loretta Devine, Peter Dinklage, Ron Glass, Danny Glover, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Zoë Saldaña, Columbus Short, Luke Wilson

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures
“Death at a Funeral” is really a great idea for a comedy. There are a lot of laughs inherent in the material, and director Neil LaBute has put together a stellar cast. They land on the laughs that they need to, and I like the fact that this isn’t really an in your face wacky comedy. But, I do wonder whether LaBute was really the right person to helm this type of comedy. LaBute has proven a master of dark comedy, but this movie is more along the lines of slapstick despite its setting around a funeral. The movie never seems to build up the steam it needs to be satisfying.

Erik the Viking (1989) **
Director/Writer: Terry Jones
Starring: Tim Robbins, Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt, Terry Jones, Imogen Stubbs, John Cleese, Tsutomu Sekine, Antony Sher, Gary Cady, Charles McKeown, Tim McInnerny, John Gordon Sinclair, Richard Ridings, Freddie Jones, Samantha Bond

Image courtesy of Prominent Features
Coming from a former member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python, “Erik the Viking” finds itself swinging for the same types of laughs as “The Life of Brian”. It tries to be something a little larger than the Monty Python movies, however, and never finds its comfort zone. It reminds me of a sort of rough draft of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” from only a year later by another Monty Python alum, Terry Gilliam.


Alan Bacchus said...

I hated the original British Death of a Funeral, and so I was shocked that it would be remade. Thus, I have no desire to see this version.

I'm with you all the way on Back to the Future II. I'd give it another 1/2 star in fact.

Andrew D. Wells said...

For years I hung another half star on BTTF2, but there was a big story flaw that I noticed this time around that I couldn't completely forgive. It seems to me the big event that the entire future hung on was the car accident that Marty had when he was younger, not his kid agreeing to go along with Griff. So why didn't Doc try to change that moment. Of course, it eventually does get changed in BTTF3.

I never saw the British version of funeral, although it sat in my Netflix queue for quite some time. Yeah, it just needed to be funnier. It was all funny set up, but no follow through.

I thought you say something about my brief thoughts on "Last Tango". I just couldn't get into it.

KathyinMD said...

I hated Last Tango in Paris too. I thought I must be broken because everyone else loves it. Thanks Andy!