Sunday, January 30, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: Jan. 21-27

Meet Dave (2008) *½
Director: Brian Robbins
Writers: Rob Greenberg, Bill Corbett
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Austyn Lynd Myers, Ed Helms, Scott Caan, Mike O’Malley, Kevin Hart, Pat Kilbane, Judah Freidlander, Marc Blucas

The tag line reads, “Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy in Meet Dave.” What could possibly go wrong with all that? The thing I really can’t figure out about this preposterous movie about a spaceship shaped like Eddie Murphy and commanded by a little alien Eddie Murphy that lands on Earth is just who the hell they thought it would appeal to. It’s too juvenile to appeal to adults, and too filled with adult humor to appeal to kids. To call this movie stupid is to insult the people who already know it is just from its premise.

New In Town (2009) ***
Director: Jonas Elmer
Writers: Ken Rance, C. Jay Cox
Starring: Renée Zellwerger, Harry Connick Jr., Siobhan Fallon, J.K. Simmons

This is the second time I’ve seen this movie I never thought I’d want to see, and I still liked it more than I would’ve expected. Yes, it just a typical fish out of water storyline about a Miami executive who is shipped to Minnesota in the dead of winter to trim back on a factory for the main office. Yes, it’s also a Renée Zellwerger rom com, but neither Zellwerger nor Harry Conick Jr. are allowed to be as annoying as they might be. Most of the film’s success can be attributed to the wonderful supporting performances of Siobhan Fallon and J.K. Simmons as two of the Minnesota factory workers. It isn’t great art, but if you want to watch a nice movie with your sweetie, you could do much worse.

Alien Hunter (2003) *½
Director: Ron Krauss
Writers: J.S. Cardone, Boaz Davidson
Starring: James Spader, Janine Eser, John Lynch, Nikolai Binev, Leslie Stefanson, Aimee Graham, Stu Charno, Carl Lewis

Now, I don’t expect a movie entitled “Alien Hunter” starring James Spader as the only name involved to be any good, but I do expect it to at least try and infuse some action into its lame attempt at an X-Files style feature film. Instead, this movie offers about an hour’s worth of technobabble followed by the most peculiar alien contact scene I’ve ever witnessed. What the hell happened in this film? I’d ask someone to explain it to me, but that would just make me sad for the person who knew.

The 6th Day (2000) *
Director: Roger Spottiswode
Writers: Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Rapaport, Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter, Wendy Crewson, Rodney Rowland, Terry Crews, Robert Duvall

I don’t remember hating “The 6th Day” when I originally saw it ten years ago, although I doubt I liked it. Seeing it again, I’m shocked that I didn’t remember how terrible it was. Perhaps if they just played it straight it might’ve worked, but the screenplay continually tries to inject humor into its absurd sci-fi cloning plot. With Schwarzenegger’s flat delivery of all the humor and his unconvincing emotions about his family; the movie doesn’t stand a chance of not being laughed at. How did they get a legend like Robert Duvall to appear in a movie this bad? Perhaps they offered him the salary that Coppola refused to give him or “The Godfather III”.

Damage (2009) *½
Director: Jeff King
Writer: Frank Hannah
Starring: Steve Austin, Laura Vandervoort, Walton Goggins, Donnelly Rhodes, Lynda Boyd

I often wonder about the inspiration for movies. It’s a very hard thing to make a movie. It takes an incredible amount of money and effort. That makes these lower level movies hard for me to understand. Why did these people want to make a movie about an ex-con who finds himself in an underground fighting ring in Seattle to raise money for a heart transplant for the child of the victim he was sent away for? Was the writer and ex-con? Did he know someone who participated in these underground fighting rings?

For the actors it’s just a job. “I got a script. They’ve offered me money to play this part.” That could be the same situation for the director, but someone had to want to make this movie. And, I just don’t see it. Sylvester Stallone was personally invested in “Rocky”. I can’t see any strong personal investment in this movie. Maybe that’s why it stinks.

The Terminator (1984) ****
Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Winfield, Lance Henrickson

In watching “The Terminator” so soon after “Damage”, it’s easy for me to contrast the two movies in terms of filmmaking skill. “The Terminator” wasn’t just a matter of having an inspired idea, as James Cameron most certainly did. Although, he took much of his concept from two Harlan Ellison teleplays for “The Outer Limits”, he’s obviously connected to his material. But, beyond that he builds his screenplay in a way that makes his material less obvious to the audience.

After years of knowing about “The Terminator” saga, it’s easy to miss that in this first film, the audience really didn’t know much about what was going on. The mystery adds to the suspense of the film. He opens with this cryptic passage about how man is at war with the machines in 2029 A.D. He tells us the final battle, however, begins in the present. We see two men traveling from the future. That much we can assume, although it isn’t spelled out to us. But also, he waits a long time before he tells us anything about them. It’s obvious the Schwarzenegger character is not a good guy. Beyond that we don’t learn anything about what’s going on until both men find their target, Sarah Conner. We don’t even know that Schwarzenegger isn’t human, although he’s perfect casting when considering that he is supposed to be a cyborg.

To a good degree this mysterious type of plotting disappeared from American filmmaking for quite some time. It has recently started to find its way back into our films. The success of “Inception” is proof that American audiences are willing to watch with some degree of confusion. This is good for American filmmaking. It makes for better films.

My One and Only (2009) ***
Director: Richard Loncraine
Writer: Charlie Peters
Starring: Renée Zellwerger, Logan Lerman, Mark Rendall, Kevin Bacon, David Koechner, J.C. MacKenzie, Robin Weigert, Molly C. Quinn, Nick Stahl, Eric McCormack, Chris Noth, Steven Webber

This road trip movie about George Hamilton’s mother was one that came and went without much fanfare. It isn’t bad though. It has a surprisingly good script for what is not incredibly original material. A mother leaves her cheating husband and takes her teenaged sons with her on a cross-country trip to find a new husband. Renée Zellwerger plays the mom as classy, but not all that aware of her boys or the world in general. Through their trip she learns how to be a mom and live on her own, while the boys learn how to be a family. Like I said, not highly original, but well done and fairly entertaining. There is no mention that one of the boys will grow up to be George Hamilton until the final moments of the film. It works just fine as a real story or a fictitious one.

The Replacement Killers (1998) **
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Ken Sanzel
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Kenneth Tsang, Jurgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Til Schweiger, Carlos Gomez, Clifton Collins Jr.

After most of the movies I saw this week, “The Replacement Killers” seemes like a masterpiece; but even by Antoine Fuqua’s standards, this one is pretty shoddy material. OK, so the hitman who’s the best in the business has only performed two hits before the one he refuses to do in this one? He shoots like he’s been killing people all his life. And if you hire a couple of replacement killers to do the hit that he didn’t, why send them after him first? Shouldn’t you take care of that important hit that required you to hire the best hitman in the business first and then send them after the original hitman? I mean the original hitman says immediately after the replacement killers try to kill him, “They’re not after me. They’re here to finish my job.” But they just tried to kill you! How can you say they aren’t after you? That’s some pretty bad writing. Maybe this was only Ken Sanzel’s second script. His third must be a magnum opus.


Alan Bacchus said...

That's a bad week. No Turner Classic Movies at the hotel?

Andrew D. Wells said...

No. Three English choices. CNN. Star Movies (not Starz!). And National Geographic. I did get to see the NFL Championship games with Chinese commentary, and even though I couldn't tell what they were saying, I could tell that they couldn't tell what was going on. And I did get to see the Academy Award Nominations Announcement live at 9:30 p.m. A much more reasonable time to watch it.

Next week's will be much better though, as the 14 hr plane ride back allowed me to have a 6 movie film festival, and I was able to catch up with some good ones that I'd missed in 2010.