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Action/Disaster

After getting through the hackneyed “man leaves wife and daughter to go to the sea” introduction, made more unpleasant by the spunky, Nickelodeonesque cutie pie daughter of oil rig safety engineer Mark Wahlberg and wife Kate Hudson, Peter Berg’s (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day)  disaster flick settles down nicely.  The pace is taut, the action gripping, the explanation of foreign concepts effective, and the clash of personalities (true blue safety guys Wahlberg and Kurt Russell versus corporate, dollar-watching rig manager John Malkovich) not too heavy-handed.  A decent expenditure of time, but as my daughter remarked, probably better delivered as a documentary.

The movie hewed pretty close to the facts, but, incredibly, left one off that perhaps seemed to incredible to portray:  college kids were fishing under the rig when it blew up.

My son and daughter have impeccable taste in films, so the other night, I bowed to their wishes and watched Captain America: Civil War, which was streaming on Netflix.  I do not want to put the recommendation squarely on their shoulders.  A colleague who has his own movie podcast and my nephew, who are much more attuned to this genre than me, also dug the movie.  It rates a 90% on rottentomatoes.com.

What am I missing?

Some background.  Of Captain America, I wrote, “All characters are boring and stock, particularly Evans, who has the face and demeanor of soft butter. A lot of stuff happens after his transformation, but full disclosure – we turned it off after an hour.”

Of Marvel’s The Avengers, “The picture is dizzying, occasionally funny, well-paced but really, really long and immediately forgettable.”

Of Avengers: Age of Ultron, “Best part. A friend of Captain America asking if he’s found a place to live in Brooklyn yet, and Captain America responding that he doesn’t think he can afford it.  Because what’s missing from these films is the Avengers at a cocktail party.  Full disclosure: turned off at the halfway point.”

This flick did not represent a reversal in the trend.  You have scads of super heroes running around either intoning gravely over the issue of the day (should they or should they not place themselves under the command and oversight of . . . the U.N.?) and when they are not doing that, they are cracking wise.  They line up against each other and meet on an airport tarmac where they have a CGI rumble, a scrum made so  dull by their invincibility (after all, kill Ant Man and that’s like burning $650 million)  I was reminded of a time when the aforesaid nephew was playing a first person shooter video game (Doom?) and he was just tearing it up, knife through butter.  I was impressed by his prowess until I noticed that he wasn’t even getting nicked, despite being shot repeatedly.  It was then he informed me that he had a cheat, or a code, that allowed him to traipse through the game, unhurt.

For him, it was the journey, a pleasing way to pass time and explore the world of the game makers.  I was all like, “Kill or die!”

And I imagine that is a generational difference that explains my view of the film.

Now get the hell off my lawn.

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With the weather becoming depressingly cold, on Friday night, my wife and I decided to stay in, order Chinese, and watch something mindless. We could not have asked for a better choice than this picture. The backstory takes about six minutes. We, the United States, bomb the wrong Middle Eastern family, who, for matters of what I presumed to be political correctness, are not radical jihadists, but rather, generic arms dealers who sow misery and discord wherever and whenever they can. Our chickens come home to roost several years later, when the family unleashes their long planned assault – a decapitation of world leadership at the state funeral for a British prime minister in London. Our own president (Aaron Eckhart) and his Secret Service superman (Gerard Butler) are trapped in the besieged capital, and it is up to Butler to extract the president in the face of what appears to be hundreds of bad guys.

Whatever concerns I had about excessive political correctness were quickly dashed by the character of Butler. In one instance, just before killing a bad guy, he screams at him “go back to Fuckheadistan.” In another instance, he tortures the brother of the primary bad guy, while the primary bad guy listens in via cell phone. After shoving his knife in the brother’s  stomach several times with a cruel twist, the president says to him “was that really necessary?” Butler responds “no.”

When Butler delivers the final coup, he prefaces it with a speech that is jingoistic, excessive, and hilariously satisfying.

“You know what you assholes don’t get? We’re not a fucking building! We’re not a fucking flag! We’re not just one man! Assholes like you have been trying to kill us for a long fucking time. But you know what? A thousand years from now, we’ll still fucking be here!”

Hoorah!!!

Yes, it is stupid, but it is also an exciting, well executed escape flick, with a lot of ingenious stunts, a cool re-creation of the destruction of London, and little attempt at what would otherwise be a cardboard and time-wasting story.

It’s hard to decide on what was more enjoyable about Deadpool. There’s the ingenious flash-forward, flashback in story, which keeps the action fresh. There is also an intelligent self-referential trick; as Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is dragged to the estate of the X-Men, he asks “ “So, McAvoy or Stewart?”.  The back-and-forth between Reynolds – our hero, though he insists he is not – and the other characters is sharp and profane. The utter lack of seriousness, save for a very few poignant moments that are immediately deflated by the screenwriting equivalent of fart noises – is also a joy (indeed, Reynolds actually farts as he walks by his roommate, who, unbelievably, is a geriatric blind woman). There’s the 106 minute running time, juxtaposed nicely with the bloated, Shoah-like length of the interminable Avenger movies, which keeps things humming.

But I guess my favorite part is when Reynolds meets his love interest (Morena Baccarin) and we are educated as to the depth of their ardor via a montage of their incredibly kinky sex life, which incorporates days of commemoration. The image of Reynolds bound and on all fours as Baccarin prepares to “celebrate” International Women’s Day with him is hilarious, made more so by the image of parents quickly hustling their children out of a theater they lazily thought was showing children’s fare

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(Reporting from the blizzard of ’16)

My childhood memories of kick-ass Clint Eastwood are vivid. I think I was first mesmerized by him as the cool, sardonic killer in the World War II drama Where Eagles Dare, and after that, as Dirty Harry Callahan, a cops’ cop, rejecting Miranda and spitting in the eye of pencil-pushing bureaucrats who were the real menace to San Francisco. Somehow, I missed the westerns, catching them in the 80s.

The Eiger Sanction was on the Channel 7 daily movie rotation, and I’m sure I saw it several times. It’s a testament to the sway of Eastwood that I did, because I watched it today, and the impact was decidedly different. Eastwood directed (his fourth feature) and let’s just say he wasn’t at peak form. Very pedestrian, and hum drum, it tells the story or an art professor (Eastwood) who is actually a retired assassin for the government. He is summoned by his former boss, a straight-out-of-early-Bond albino with a Germanic voice who will die if the sun touches him, and cajoled into taking on a contract, an unknown member of a party he is to join attempting to scale the north face of the Eiger mountain. Eastwood’s clue as to the man’s identity? The man has a limp.

The mountain climbing sequences are the best thing about the film. Eastwood performed many of his own stunts, and, certifying the danger, a stunt climber was killed in the filming. But this is a dated flick, not only in its blocky, unimaginative feel, but in its dialogue.  For example, the bizarre line Eastwood gives to a stewardess he is seducing: “You never know. Sometimes people do things…they thought they’d never do again. (pause). Like rape, for instance. I thought I’d given up rape, but I’ve changed my mind.”  And then they kiss and make love by the fire.

This is the second film Eastwood got after Paul Newman passed.  Newman was wrong about Dirty Harry but not this one.

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(Reporting from the blizzard of ’16)

Oof. The first scene demonstrates everything wrong about the movie. Forced patter straight out of How I Met Your Mother, nauseating CGI, dozens of violent acts but no deaths, and not for a minute do you sense that any of the Avengers, outnumbered as they are, are in the slightest bit of danger. Good for kids; good for a parent or adult with a kid who needs a nap; soul-rotting juvenilia for anyone else.

Best part. A friend of Captain America asking if he’s found a place to live in Brooklyn yet and Captain America responding that he doesn’t think he can afford it.  Because what’s missing from these films is the Avengers at a cocktail party.

Full disclosure: turned off at the halfway point.

 

 

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Like Birdman before it, there are scenes in this movie so visually audacious, I gasped. But where that picture hit you like a ton of bricks based on the cumulative effect of its dizzying pace and construction in the close confines of a Broadway theater, Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant – which is essentially a lone survivor/revenge flick, with a little spiritual mumbo jumbo thrown in for good measure – presents dazzling set pieces interspersed with awesome portraits of the vastness of nature. The year is 1823, and Leonardo DiCaprio is a guide for a fur trapping expedition in South Dakota beset by a brutal Indian attack, and in escorting the survivors back to the safety of their fort, he is viciously mauled by a bear, a scene so expertly rendered I could not believe it had not happened, yet, of course it had not. DiCaprio seems a committed actor, but no one is that zealous.

After the attack, DiCaprio has many more hurdles before him, including a suspicious and dangerous member of the surviving group (Tom Hardy, channeling Tom Berenger in Platoon, a compliment) and pretty much every calamity the brutal world of the wilderness can provide.  DiCaprio has little to say, but he brings all the physicality he mustered in The Wolf of Wall Street, only this time, during his infirmity, he exudes animalistic fury instead of stoned near-paralysis.

This is one of the most thrilling, visually stunning films I’ve ever seen. Inarritu used natural light and subjected the actors to enormous rigors (some say, “a living hell“).  Like George Miller in Mad Max: Fury Road, Inarritu dispensed with CGI, remarking, “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit … When you see the film, you will see the scale of it, and you will say, ‘Wow.'”

Wow indeed.  It all pays off in making the picture visceral, authentic and epic.  My only nits are a bit of anachronistic, stale “you have stolen everything from us” dialogue from the primary Indian and one depiction too many of DiCaprio hallucinating his Pawnee wife welcoming him to death ala’ Russell Crowe in Gladiator. But these are very minor criticisms. This is a great film and certainly one of the best of the year.