Wednesday, August 16, 2017

watch it slowly drip away

And sometimes, I take the bad movie personally. Sometimes, it's not supposed to be a bad movie at all. Sometimes it's a sequel to one of my favorite films as a kid and I'm excited, and then increasingly disappointed as I watch the horrible followup. That followup: Highlander II: The Quickening. Roger Ebert's review begins with a lovely line about the awfulness of this film: "This movie has to be seen to be believed. On the other hand, maybe that's too high a price to pay." I have paid that price twice. I saw this movie in the theater. Second run theater, actually. Didn't see it opening weekend. I cannot remember if I knew ahead of time not to rush out to it, maybe some bad things said about it in Starlog magazine. Maybe I (or my parents, though I could drive by then) was just busy. I also rented the film on VHS once.

Imagine, if you will, my confusion, having loved the swordfighting and magic in the original Highlander, coming into this movie with its opening text:

The year is 2024.

Industrial pollution has destroyed the ozone layer, leaving the planet at the mercy of the sun's ultraviolet rays.

An electromagnetic shield now protects the earth.

The ozone layer? An electromagnetic shield? Already, you're taking an awesome fantasy and twisting it into science fiction, and not just the costume of science fiction as with Star Wars.

(A bit of confusion: I swear I remember a shot of MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) in some bunker as they turned on the shield, and the Wikipedia entry for this film has two paragraphs of plot before we get to 2024. Am I not watching the theatrical cut? I mean, I know there's another version of the film--the Renegade Version--which removes Zeist from the story somehow; I've never actually seen that version. The existence of the original version pissed me off too much to ever bother. And the existence of the Highlander tv series satiated my love for the original, and even improved on the original in some ways. I looked it up just now and, oddly, think that I saw the UK version of the film, with the longer prologue. I'm not sure what that cut would have been doing at a second run theater in the US, but hey, 10 minutes less ridiculousness tonight.)

The text continues:

A small group believes that the ozone layer has repaired itself and that the shield is no longer necessary.

But no one knows for sure.

1) If this is science, fuck this small group's beliefs. Like climate change deniers. You know, fuck them. 2) No one knows for sure? We do still have scientists, yeah?

Sidenote: The big neon OPERA sign seems like a deliberate nod to the big SILVERCUP sign on the roof at the end of the original. But, all director Mulcahy is doing is reminding us of the better work he did six years before.

Now, back to my point. If we have scientists, if they didn't just all die off along with the ozone layer, then there are ways to check if there's an ozone layer.

But, nevermind that. I have to deal with Zeist. Like I had to deal with it as a teen seeing this movie on the big screen. It makes no sense. Now, a movie about aliens who come to Earth to fight each other--that's cool. That's lots of other cool movies. Hell, just the year before this movie came out, there was I Come in Peace starring Dolph Lundgren (as a J.C. character no less--were I watching that tonight, I could totally run through some Christ-Figuring), for example...

The punishment for the rebellion on Zeist doesn't make any sense either. Send these fighters away to battle one another so only the strongest (in theory) is still around, then they can choose to return to Zeist? Seriously, the long term plan is that the strongest rebel gets to come home. What's to stop him from rebelling again?

And, why did that security camera just zoom in? Will this film do anything that isn't ridiculous?

Even bigger is this: how did MacLeod make the shield? After all the scientists died, was he magically the smartest man on Earth? He may be old, but he ran an antiques shop. For that matter, why is this ozone thing even part of the story? The plot--if we accept the Zeist bullshit--is about a new arrival from Zeist coming to fight MacLeod again. The ozone stuff is a weird attempt to grab an audience that probably wouldn't be seeing this movie anyway. But, I'm not sure if this movie is the Highlander character shoved into a movie that was supposed to be a serious exploration of the consequences of ozone depletion or a cheap bit about ozone depletion shoved into a Highlander sequel.

These hoverboard-riding twins remind me in a weird way of the aliens from Battlefield Earth, a movie so horrible even I couldn't get through it all, but alas I cannot find it available online, not even to pay for, to watch it this month.

Also, why does one hoverboard alien also have wings that pop out of his backpack? How many ways to fly does he need?

And, why do they call him "highlander"? They should use his name. He was called "the highlander" because a) he was from the highlands of Scotland, which I'll get back to in a moment, and b) Duncan wouldn't exist in the Highlander mythos for another year or so.

But let us backtrack a little before this movie really goes off the rails and has Ramirez (Sean Connery) return... Too late. There is is, interrupting a stage performance of Hamlet because, I guess that's funny.

(Sidenote: MacLeod putting "A Kind of Magic" on the jukebox was offensive enough. But, playing an instrumental version of "Who Wants to Live Forever" as he and Louise (Virginia Madsen) go at in an alleyway? Fuck everyone involved in that decision. That song was a beautiful piece connected to Connor's long-term relationship with Heather; it's about the weight of love that ends in relation to immortality. For young me (10 years old when I saw the original, 16 and having seen that original a few more times by the time this sequel came out), that song was meaningful as fuck. Now, here they play it over some bullshit quickie between two people who just met, and it's like--

And I must interrupt because why is MacLeod describing the sky to Louise? Is she supposed to be younger than 25? Madsen was 30 when this movie came out.

--it's like this movie wants to ruin everything... No, that's the terminology of folks who hate remakes just because. It's not changing the original at all, so it can't ruin it. But, it is insulting it by shoving these songs into this context, but shoving MacLeod and Ramirez into this ridiculous story.)

The subway sequence is just stupid. If those numbers on the dash are mph, there should be a lot more destruction when that thing crashes. If they're anything else, they're meaningless.

(And, here's the bit with them activating the shield. Maybe this is the cut of the film I saw, and I just reordered the scenes in the version of the film that exists in the deep, dark recesses of my head.)

And now I must backtrack finally. Because, Connor MacLeod was born in Scotland. Ramirez was born in Egypt (his name wasn't Ramirez, of course). They were not just transported here like Katana (Michael Ironside) or the moron twins. Ramirez explained the Gathering to MacLeod back in Scotland before he (Ramriez) died. Connor and Kastagir talked about the Gathering as well. With no mention of Zeist, no mention of being aliens. Even if we assume that MacLeod and Ramirez and Kastagir just didn't remember who they were before (or if they were somehow inserted onto Earth as unborn infants), how do Katana and the Scientologist twins manage it differently?

Quick nitpick: you drop a body that far, with a noose around the neck, it is not going to stop so nicely. That head is going to be ripped off, the headless body is going to hit the ground. But, hey, if a subway train doesn't have to follow the laws of physics, neither should a human body.

Worse than the Zeist thing is the Zeist thing doesn't set up Katana well enough. Sure, his actions have shown he's a homicidal psychopath, but that' snot enough for a villain. The Kurgan in the original had some personality to him. He had charisma. And, his connection to MacLeod in that battle outside Glenfinnan was set up better (he helps another clan just to get to MacLeod, that shows drive and personality) than Ramirez' speech that starts the rebellion on Zeist. We never really get to know Katana. (Or why a name like Katana or MacLeod or Ramirez would work on Zeist.) David Blake (John C. McGinley) (the head of the Shield Coroporation) has more personality, even if he feels like a mustache-twirling villain and not someone realistic) and more of an obvious investment in the plot.

If Ramirez' magic could open the door, why did he even bother with the giant Bond-villain fan?

(I may be watching the "Special Edition" version of the film. Wikipedia says this truck-top fight was in that version... But it also says the "Special Edition" is "nearly identical to the Renegade Version" which would mean no Zeist. This version has Zeist.)

Interesting bit of trivia: Allan (Allan Rich) tells MacLeod to go to 33 degrees 26 minutes north latitude. (Ramirez later points out the obvious: they need a longitude.) Thing is, the Shield Control base seems to be near New York City. After escaping the facility, MacLeod and Louise don't seem to travel very far. (Or maybe they use the wormholes Jack Bauer always seemed to use on 24.) But, 33 degrees north runs across the southern half of the US. And 33 ° °:26' apparently runs right through where the flying saucer supposedly crashed outside Roswell, New Mexico. Maybe they were from Zeist.

And then the movie just ends. (The Wikipedia says MacLeod and Louise go to Zeist. I don't remember that. And this version doesn't have that.) Well, Connor kills Katana and steps into the Shield beam thingy and magics it away.

Monday, August 14, 2017

hold you tighter than your true love

Take Anaconda, for example. Arguably the birthplace of more recent crap fare like Sharknado. Except, this was a real movie, meant for the theater, meant to be taken (relatively) seriously. It's inherently ridiculous, but hey, so is Jaws: The Revenge and that was born out of one of the greatest thrillers ever--the original Jaws. There's a thin line and a slippery slope between a movie that should be taken seriously and a movie that exists to entertain the simpler-minded in its audience, and/or to make some quick cash for a very cynical version of Hollywood.

The cast alone here suggests something more serious. It's not A-listers. But, it's not all has-beens either. Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer. And the setup--a documentarian headed into the Amazon--is far more... highbrow isn't the right word, but it's far "better" than an ex surfer saving the world from freak weather.

The music is almost too happy and excited (reminiscent of Cutthroat Island). The dramatic arrival of Voight is a little much. His accent and Hollywood-obvious "dangerous" are overdone. But, this is aiming for B-movie. And there have always been B-movies, always monster movies and disaster movies that really just aren't that good. But, 1) older ones have that forgivability factor because the effects weren't available to make things more real, and 2) they also don't have to be good. If they can just avoid being inherently stupid and offensive, they can be entertaining for the same reason that I say I don't (strictly) go to movies--the escapism thing. You can watch a bunch of attractive folks deal wth a giant snake and it draws you out of your life. Action and adventure, or the science fiction paranoia of, say, big radioactive creatures from '50s films--it offers up something to distract, or to focus (depending on the film). Something like Anaconda also offers up the exotic. Not just attractive actors but also attractive locations. And a decidedly unattractive situation.






And despite some things I've said previously, why shouldn't we seek out a movie that has obvious flaws, that embraces its flaws even? Why shouldn't we look for something fun, even if it isn't perfect? Not every movie can be some pretentious indie. Not every movie should be.

Anaconda isn't even that bad. It takes its time, it builds up the mystery, lets Voight chew up the scenery. There's the cold open with Danny Trejo, of course, and there's the title, so we know what's coming. But, the film does not rush into things. Forty minutes before the titular snake kills Mateo.

What works in a movie like this, or so many bad movies I've enjoyed over the years, is that there can be a guarantee of entertainment. Like a relationship. You get familiar with the film. You know what to expect, and it delivers. (To be fair, my distaste at the recent Sharknado 5 was because what it delivered with the mindless action and inane cameos from mostly has been celebrities just doesn't appeal to me. There is an audience for it, obviously. But, I want something more.) I recently came up with an idea for what to do with this blog next month, and it's all about familiarity. For me. Movies I grew up with. Movies I watched all the time as a kid. Movies that I could come back to time and time again because they were steady, they were giving. No matter what was going on in life, the right movie could make it all go away. Or add to it; it's not all escape. A nice thoughtful movie doesn't need to pull you out of life but instead make you weigh it, make you measure life and see it for all that it is. Groundhog Day is that for me, obviously. But, so are so many other movies. Old movies, new movies, good movies, bad movies.

As long as they offer comfort. Or discomfort when things are too comfortable. Time for thought when life needs measure. Mindless action when life is too full. It's not just one thing. But it has to be something.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

who survived this terrifying ordeal

Plan 9 from Outer Space is, on its surface, an awful film, far worse than The Happening, but even if you've not seen Ed Wood and seen Johnny Depp's take on the titular director as a man so in love with film he cannot see its flaws, this movie has charm. It's just so... earnest and overwrought; its voiceover is too much, its melodramatic underpinnings are too big for its short running time; and its straightforwardness of plot coupled, its simplicity of sets (like this airplane cockpit which is barely more than a wall with a curtain; they don't even have steering columns), its simplistic acting (without being goofy or inhuman like Walhberg or Deschanel in The Happening), it's mix of cheap original footage and stock footage, and its ridiculous premise make for a weirdly entertaining thing.

Jeff's (Gregory Walcott) rant about how he can't tell anyone about the flying saucer he saw because he's "muzzled by army brass" feels like the kind of rant Shyamalan puts into his movies. But, the thing is, if they made a film--M. Night Shyamalan--I don't imagine him as being in love with film. He's clearly enamored with something about what he can do with film, but that' snot the same thing. Take Lady in the Water for example. I have been consistent in my dislike for that film; that is worth noting before I go on. There, Shyamalan invents a new mythology and casts himself, literally, as a writer whose ideas will save the world. That takes a whole lot of ego. Hell, just his Hitchockian habit of casting himself in most of his movies takes ego. Usually, it's small roles, sure, but vital ones--the doctor in The Sixth Sense, the suspicious stadium attendee in Unbreakable, the guy who killed Graham's wife in Signs, the guard with the on-the-nose-headlines newspaper in The Village, and I'm pretty sure he was in Split too, but I cannot remember what he did [looked it up and apparently he helped Dr. Fletcher with video footage]. But, Lady in the Water--that one goes beyond the rest; and maybe it's because I have become increasingly troubled by Shyamalan's filmmaking, but by that point I was pretty sure he was full of himself, and then there he was trying to prove it.

But, enough about Shyamalan (at least until I get to another one of his films here in this blog).

Like The Happening, Plan 9 from Outer Space has a tell-don't-show problem, of course. But, that's a little more forgivable in 1959 than in 2008. Less possibility for effects, practical and special.

That's why, I think, I've gotten increasingly annoyed with the various deliberately-cheap Syfy movies like Sharknado; their badness is hard to forgive, especially once the initial novelty wears off. The premise is silly, but imagine a realistically-rendered sharknado and how terrifying that could be.






And then I neglected to say anything else. The film is the film. And, the real world with its real violence distracted me a bit. And, I kinda want some aliens to show up and threaten us into not hurting one another. Of course, that's just fantasy. That's just film. In the real world, that's a stupid solution. Threats just make things worse. Violence begets violence, no matter how powerful one party may be. (Hell, the movie kind of gets at that too. I'd forgotten where this thing went in the end.)

But bad movies distract. The violence isn't at my backdoor. So, I can afford to be distracted. I wish that were the case for everyone.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

you're not interested in what happened

The one woman's confusion about her book and then stabbing herself in the neck--that's good cinema. The other woman seeing people clawing at themselves, but we don't get to see that clawing--that's just offensive filmmaking. Something Shyamalan does far too much in The Happening; he has characters and fake newscasters tell us things rather than show us things. And, at the climax of the film, while Nursery Owner has already offered up bits of the explanation for what's happening, we aren't offered visual clues to figure it out, and we don't really get to observe the process of Elliot figuring it out... Okay, we are literally allowed to observe him figuring it out but it's so... lame:

Click and see.

The construction site scene is a better opening because we see the action. We don't just hear about it.

But, the best scene comes later--

(Three hours into the "event" that's happening, we've already had autopsies, we've got a detailed explanation of the chemicals or whatever turning off some bullshit receptors in the brain that keep us from killing ourselves, and we've already heard that the event is isolated to New York, just in time for the event to spread to Philadelphia.)

--when a cop shoots himself, drops his gun, some blood spurts out of the wound, a driver (who that cop has just spoken to about the weather) gets out of his car, walks toward the camera, picks up the gun, shoots himself, falls to the ground, and the camera pans to the right just in time for a woman to walk over, pick up that gun and shoot herself, and it's all one take, and it's better filmmaking than anything to come after.

Friday, August 11, 2017

one useless piece

I saw two good movies today. One a horror film, far better than it should have been (though with one annoying flaw right at its center). The other a nice family drama with echoes of last year's Captain Fantastic (which I loved), and based on a true story. That is, Annabelle: Creation and The Glass Castle, respectively.

But, right now, I'm watching The Happening because, I suppose I hate myself.

Now, The Happening isn't all bad. Until Mark Wahlberg shows up on screen, telling us (or his students) about some article about bees that Shyamalan (or Wahlberg's character, though I'm not sure he has one) read in the news, the movie is actually pretty good. A slow burn handful of minutes, that lady losing her place in her book twice then slowly pushing her hairpin into her neck, all of those bodies leaping from the construction site... And then Elliot (Wahlberg) teaches science but doesn't understand what "theory" means.

Cameron Fry has become a principal. Good for him. We should follow him instead of Elliot. Elliot sucks. He says every line like he recently discovered language.

Alma (Zooey Deschanel) manages to be even stranger, talking about the evil of this toxin (which was figured out far too unrealistically quick) like it's the latest fashion she saw on a commercial. It's like Shyamalan really wanted to make a movie where all of the emotional reactions of everyone were mixed up but accidentally made this one instead. For example, Julian (John Leguizamo) and Alma dial up their awkward conversation (deliberately, awkward, mind you) to inhuman levels. And, nothing will be normal again.

Meanwhile, the only real problem with Annabelle: Creation is its abrupt turn from a slow burn first half into a less interesting (but still pretty good) second half filled with CGI and violence (but SPOILERS few actual victims). It manages to offer up characters whose strangeness feels real. Unlike Elliot or Alma or Julian here.

This sequence with the gun and the string of suicides is great filmmaking, better than most of the rest of The Happening. The worst thing about Shyamalan is not his horrible impulses toward the inane but his inconsistency; he can be a brilliant director with one scene and then heavyhanded and silly the next.

David F Sandberg, the director of Annabelle: Creation, on the other hand, is consistently... good. Never great. He knows how to let a visual linger, knows how to get a good performance from his cast, including several young girls. So does Destin Daniel Cretton, the director and writer of The Glass Castle. Both of them get great performances out of kids. Yet here, I'm not even sure Elliot actually knows what a mood ring is.

The Glass Castle, based on Jeanette Walls' book, offers up the kind of character in her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) that is a force of nature, an off-the-grid-living alcoholic who is caring and nurturing one moment, destructive and maddening the next. The kind of part

Here in The Happening, the force of nature is different, and Shyamalan's reliance on obvious dialogue and obvious visuals makes that literal force of nature feel weak and unimportant. It is just there. Rex Walls, though, or the demon that is inside Annabelle--their actions drive their respective stories. They have agency. The plants... The plants just are. A passive antagonist is not an antagonist at all. The premise is intriguing, but there's a reason that say, Night of the Living Dead is about the humans turning on each other, a reason that most any zombie movie is; when you have mindless villains or passive villains, you need someone else to be the antagonist. You need man's inhumanity to man, you need racism and sexism and every -ism that has ever pulled people apart. Instead, Shyamalan focuses on a random grouping of characters, and events happen without much logic. (By the time Jared and Josh are killed by the unseen paranoid guy, it's both too late, and too brief. Same with the brief scene with men in Fairfield, Nebraska loading guns.)

Annabelle, though--she wants something. She wants to exist in our world. She wants to toy with people. She wants a soul (or two or three). Rex Walls wants to take care of his family but he's damaged and broken since he was a child. We see orphan girls in need of parents, parents in need of children, and a nun seemingly (though not confirmed within the film, but one reference in the film suggest her character may be involved in the Nun movie thay've got spinning off from the Conjuring series soon) turned to running an orphanage because of the loss of her own child. That's Annabelle: Creation. We see four children, three girls and a boy, turning one and on to each other as their father destructs and self-destructs, as their mother takes him back and takes him back, as they are moved from place to place, with no sense of anything solid until they demand it for themselves. That's The Glass Castle. But here? We see random characters, most of which we learn very little about--

Alma isn't having an affair, but apparently had dessert with a guy and that's troubling for her, Julian is concerned for his absent wife, Elliot is perplexed by, well, everything, and the unnamed Nursey Owner (Frank Collison) likes hot dogs

--and they kill themselves. And other than maybe Julian, we have no reason to care when that happens. It's just plot. It's impersonal. And it's a little silly.

Two orphan girls swear to get adopted together and it's easy to care. Four siblings swear to make it out on their own, away from their parents, and we already have a good portion of that film behind us to make us care. Maybe a better comparison would be Jeannette accidentally lighting herself on fire while making lunch, and we already understand so much of her character, of her mother, and the family dynamic. But, Alma feels guilty and lies about going out wth that guy, and it's hard to care.

But, I can't fault Shyamalan for trying. I mean, he wants to say something. About nuclear power, about overpopulation, about... something. He has put some thought into this story. He has a message. If more filmmakers, better filmmakers, had things to say, we could have some really good movies.

The Happening is built like Shyamalan's earlier Signs, following one small group as something huge is happening. But, there, we had characters with depth, characters with personal struggles, characters with quirks. Here, we never get that far. Elliot and Alma just aren't that interesting. Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley) is interesting, but she's also an oddity here. She's so disconnected from society that she's disconnected from the story. She's there for one more death to set up an emotional climax that is neither earned nor acted successfully.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

and because i am so charitable

I have only one thing further to say about Cutthroat Island. Except, it's not really about the movie itself; rather, it's about Roger Ebert's review. See, he doens't praise it, but he also doesn't seem to find it as boring and distasteful as I do. And, I am surprised by that. "'Cutthroat Island' does not disappoint," he writes. "It touches all [its] bases like clockwork..."

Those bases, the tropes of any "decent pirate pictures" according to Roger:

(1) an escape from a hostile port; (2) a battle at sea, preferably with broadsides fired and pirates boarding each other's ships; (3) one featured swordfight, (4) a storm at sea, with the survivors washed ashore, and (5) discovery of the treasure and a final confrontation.

And, you know what I like about that list? At first blush, my personal favorite pirate movie--The Pirate Movie--has but one of those, a featured swordfight. Now, at second blush, it's got a storm at sea, but writ small, affecting only Mabel's small sailboat, and setting the entire plot into motion. There is a treasure, but it is found simply, with a musical number to boot, and the final confrontation (which is quite hilarious, and in the end, quite thoughtful in its metatextual reference to the story itself) is barely connected to it. There is no battle between ships at sea, no escape from a hostile port, and certainly no extended chase sequence through a crowded city like the one that fills so much of the beginning of Cutthroat Island, or the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales...

And, speaking of dead men telling no tales, Cutthroat Island makes an explicit reference to the Pirates of the Carbbean ride at Disneyland when Shaw (Matthew Modine) says that very line--"Dead men tell no tales"--when he and Morgan (Geena Davis) come upon a skeleton with a crab crawling on it. If you've not been on the ride, well, at one point, before you're down far enough below ground to get to all of the animatronics (which have recently (or are about to be) altered again to remove the wenches for sale), your boat passes a bit of beach, one skeleton held against a wall by a cutlass, another in the sand, and there are crabs and a bit of treasure. The reference here seems deliberate, so I had to doublecheck to see if Carolco had anything to do with Disney. It didn't. In fact, out of numerous companies that distributed Carolco productions (TriStar several times, Universal a few times, Paramount, Columbia, New Line, Miramax (before Disney owned it), and MGM), Disney never did. Also, Cutthroat Island was the death of Carolco. Adjusted for inflation, I believe Cutthroat Island is still the biggest box office bomb ever, costing around $100 million at the time and making only $10 million at the box office.

I never actually saw the whole movie, by the way. It came out right after I quit the movie theater where I worked (and which had a deal with the nearby theater (where Cutthroat Island was playing) so we ushers could see movies at both for free) and there were better movies available. It was the weekend before Christmas. New to theaters were: Waiting to Exhale, Grumpier Old Men, Sudden Death, Tom and Huck, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Cutthroat Island, Nixon, Balto, Four Rooms, and Shanghai Triad. The weekend before had Jumanji, Heat, Sabrina, Sense and Sensibility, City of Lost Children, and Othello. I saw most of those in the theater. That weekend, it was probably Four Rooms and Grumpier Old Men. The weekend before would have been Heat and Jumanji and probably Sabrina. The weekend after had a few Academy-qualifying runs, just a few theaters each for 12 Monkeys (saw it that weekend), Dead Man Walking (saw it that weekend), Richard III, Restoration, and Mr. Holland's Opus. Really, this movie had no right coming out for Christmas; it's not fun enough to grab the Christmas family audience. It should have been out in the summer, up against Batman Forever and Apollo 13, Pocahontas and Waterworld... The twofer of Cutthroat Island and Waterworld should have been the greatest of cautionary tales for not filming on the ocean.

But anyway, my point is there were better films to be seen. Even a better ocean-based film in Waterworld. (Of course, the beneath-the-ocean Crimson Tide eclipsed either of them when it came to quality.) There are always better films to see. And better films to make. I'm curious of the exact timeline here--When did Harlin and Davis get together? Did he really think she could be an action star or was he just so enamored he had to have her on his movie? Had Michael Douglas remained attached to the film, would it have played better? If Waterworld hadn't have been going on around the same time, might there have been more oceangoing-crew available to replace the dozen or so who quit after Harlin fired the chief camera operator? Is that even a thing--oceangoing crew? If Harlin hadn't pushed Davis to do her own stunts, might he have let the editors trim more of the action sequences to move the film along better?

Which brings me back to Roger, by the way. He says, "director Renny Harlin ("Die Hard 2") moves the story along smartly." Except, no. The movie barely moves. It's got a pace more appropriate to a tv series...

But, I'm still trying to like it. And, you know what I have come to appreciate? Frank Langella's performance as Dawg Brown. He growls his orders at his men, and snaps at them when they move too slowly. He delivers lames lines like, "I know you're out there, Morgan. I can smell you" as if he means it. And, he exudes more charm as the antagonist than Modine or Davis do as the leads. He even makes me forget completely that there are other villains (until that last half hour when he inexplicably joins up with the British guy. But, best of all with Dawg is that I can buy him actually being a pirate, I can buy him actually seeking out treasure like this. He feels more real.

I wish he would win.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

by the way, that won't work

I have a goal for today. I want to like Cutthroat Island. Despite all of its flaws, I mean. Despite it's simplistic, plot-driven structure. Despite it's excessive length. Despite its unmotivated characters. Despite its generic script. I have my work cut out for me.

I suppose there's charm to these opening titles, all the overlaid old maps and maritime illustrations, like the movie really wants to be the definitive pirate movie...

And then I'm reminded of The Pirate Movie, and I love that movie. That movie has charm, taking The Pirates of Penzance, already good in its own right, and updating it for the 1980s with a bit of parody to it, with just the right balance of cheese and earnestness. This movie could use a little less earnestness, a little more lightheartedness. Instead of this faux gravitas between Harry (Harris Yulin) and Dawg (Frank Langella). Or, instead of Renny Harlin and Geena Davis getting the studio to basically fund their honeymoon (they married just before production), how about a film about the Adams brothers before all of this, before they turned on each other... or make this story of that turning about them instead of about Morgan (Davis).






Maybe it just needs a different editor. Like, cut the length of all these chase scenes, all these establishing shots, move things along fast enough that we don't notice the lack of motivation. I mean, instead of paying attention (which I am trying to do), I get involved in a conversation about acting, theater versus movies, and our kids as actors especially, with another parent. (We're on the set of a pilot for a web series.) There was also a long conversation about the difference between a middle school and a junior high school. But now, the kids are filming, and I'm going to try to focus on the movie.

But then I want to complain about how that chain around Morgan's neck should have at least left some serious bruising, if not kill her outright. Or how this tavern is really well lit for having just a few stray candles and a fireplace for light.






To be fair, the plot is coherent, unlike the later Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mostly though, that might be because everything takes so damn long, it's hard to miss anything.

That's almost positive.






And then I'm reading the script for this pilot instead of focusing on the movie. It just never grabs you. It's far better acting than, say, The Room or Troll 2, even better than Howard the Duck, but it's just so boring, and the characters just... exist to service the plot.