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Moonrise Kingdom

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***

Jiminy cricket, he flew the coop!

That quotation, from the excellent Edward Norton, is an example of Wes Anderson getting in the way of a good thing. This film, like almost all of his films, has two camps: the adults and the children. He tries to show this physically by having a Khaki Scout Camp, Camp Ivanhoe, a reference to the popular tv program of the time (1965) starring Sir Roger Moore. The adults have all sorts of problems and each have something clearly missing from their lives. Besides Norton’s scout leader, Bruce Willis steals the show as the only law enforcement on the isolated island on which the action takes place. Bob Balaban is in it too, doing his best impression of the aesthetic of The Life Aquatic. Bill Murray, Franes McDormand, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton also co-star, but they are wasted and misdirected by Anderson. In fact, Tilda Swinton’s character, “Social Services,” is a nod to the audience that Anderson knows that this is just an allegorical one dimensional character only in the film to create an obstacle to be overcome.

The children, especially the lovebirds, Suzy–Kara Hayward–and Sam–Jared Gilman–are as great as they are weird. They are fully realized three dimensional characters. Unfortunately the script gets in the way with overly adult dialogue, particularly in the hands of the other, less gifted children. I could not care about the story as much as I had hoped to, perhaps because of the children, even those lovebirds, since they just failed to make me care very much. They also failed to make me laugh.

While the ending is sweet and in someways redeems the first 90 minutes, the movie is a failure. At his best, Wes Anderson has left me deep in thought as I have exited his films. He has earned repeated belly laughs from the wit. And made me truly care about what happens to his characters. On the bright side, at least I enjoyed it more than The Darjeeling Limited.

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The Dark Knight Rises

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When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.

This is an intense film. I felt tired after watching it because there was so much tension and because I cared so much about the characters. Christopher Nolan actually got me to pity Bane. But he did so in a way that was more clever than the Spider-man films were. Bane was evil. E-V-I-L evil. But that made feeling that pity all the more amazing. Tom Hardy’s voice and acting as Bane were great. His backstory changed, but it fits within the Batman Begins universe.

This film changed so much about the first two. It gave greater meaning and greater emotion to the events unfolding because we now have the full context. At 2:43 it is a long movie, but there was clearly much left on the cutting room floor. Some scenes have a melodrama to them that the setting does not warrant, probably because of having to cut so much out. I would love to watch a director’s cut, but since neither Batman Begins nor Dark Knight had one, my wish is likely to go unfulfilled.

It is interesting that this was the first film not to focus on mental health, eschewing Christopher Nolan’s crazies and Bruce Wayne’s psyche for something more akin to spirit. It also deals with faith. Not the certainly of inevitability, but with believing in something without the firm footing to support that belief. It took very little faith to believe that The Dark Knight Rises would succeed, with the returning cast and director, only Heath Ledger’s shadow really stood in the way, but it still felt good to have my faith rewarded.

****½

The Amazing Spider-Man

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****

You seriously think I’m a cop in a skintight red and blue suit?

This film starts off where no Spider-Man origin story has before—with Peter Parker–Andrew Garfield–as a child, and not as a teenager. We get to see teenage Peter soon enough, but by seeing little Petey we get to have a setup for a long story arc. I expected to get the payoff in this film. I also expected to see Norman Osborn since Peter’s father and Dr. Curt Connors–Rhys Ifan–work at Oscorp. In fact, Norman’s name comes up repeatedly since he is apparently dying. That is why he needs the cross-species genetic research that Parker & Connors were working on. Fans of the first three movies will recall that Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin, but without him we are left to another green villain who taunted G-d by scientific research that would make man something more than human.

As a comic book fan, two decisions got me psyched for this movie: 1. web shooters! & 2. Gwen Stacy–Emma Stone. Captain Stacy shows up and tries to catch Spider-Man, which fits with the comic book. There is a great scene from the Williamsburg Bridge with someone falling from the bridge. A shocking scene for all those familiar with the Parker-Stacy storyline. I also thought that Garfield’s Spider-Man was much funnier than Tobey Maguire’s, which fits with the Spidey I know and love. He also moves and fights more like how I would expect.

My major criticisms of this movie come from a few plot holes. A few cheesy lines from Captain Stacy. And lastly a few typical “movie” cuts that eliminate the tension by cutting to the next scene. Still, that only happened a few times and director Marc Webb let us stew in our juices. I look forward to chapter two, even if I fear for the characters.

Rewatchability?

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What makes a movie rewatchable? I presume that it’s good to be rewatchable, but perusing my “best” films definitely highlights many I have only seen once. So, let’s look at the data, by which I mean here are some movies I have watched over and over again:

The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Star Wars Episodes 2 – 5, Star Trek (2009), IV and VI, Above The Law, Hot Fuzz, The Hunt For Red October, V For Vendetta, Jaws, Gosford Park, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dark Knight, too many James Bond films to mention, Bourne Suprematum, Fist of Legend, Snatch, Oceans 13, Zodiac, District B13, Die Hard (with a vengeance), Chinatown, For A Few Dollars More

All of those films have strongly defined worlds. Being able to hear the music or see the costumes will return me to those realms quickly, and they do not really require me to pay that much attention in repeat viewings. That said, the attention to detail in those worlds provides rewards for rewatching them. Except for Above the Law, that Seagal movie is just mesmerizingly bad. Another trend is that all but a couple were in English so I do not have to watch the screen the whole time. Most of them seem to have action and/or suspense in them, as opposed to being primarily dramas or comedies. But this vision is not complete without identifying that which I do not consider rewatchable.

Not rewatchable, but not because they are bad—Unknown is bad and not rewatchable: Memento, Irreversible, The Artist, Star Trek: First Contact, Animal Kingdom, American Beauty, Batman Begins, Rescue Dawn, Broken Flowers, Saving Private Ryan, 12 Monkeys, The Hurt Locker, Spider-man 2, Schindler’s List, A Separation, The Lives of Others, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It seems like there are different causes for not rewatching these movies. Some are emotionally very taxing, some have subtitles that require more attention, and others are very good scifi/comic book/action movies. I think only the third is counterintuitive. Here is a theory—when a good comic book movie wraps everything up, then I’m good. This is doubly true for origin stories. It takes something special to make an origin rewatchable. I have only seen Godfather Part 2 once. Sherlock Holmes is the best one I can think of, but even that just jumps into the Holmes/Watson dynamic. Looking from the end of the films, good origins have me wanting X2, Spider-man 2, the next Star Trek, Iron Man 2—although it was a disappointment. The other unrewatchable movies have the end of the story. The End. At the end of The Usual Suspects I just want to put it back in for more answers! Answers that I know will be on my terms, since Bryan Singer did not wrap everything up. Oddly I find comfort in that.

And what about the formerly rewatchable comedies like Tommy Boy, Dumb and Dumber and Billy Madison, and also the films of Monty Python. I think what happened with my favorite 1990’s comedies is that they changed comedy. Judd Apatow is over the hill because his wave of comedy has hit, so that is why The 40 Year Old Virgin no longer appeals to me. But it would be disingenuous to ignore the impact comedies like that had at the time. There are timeless exceptions–Blazing Saddles–but even Hot Fuzz is less funny when I know the jokes are coming. However there is an exception to this exception! Films with comedy so well constructed that you can move your laugh from the punch line to the setup. For me that started with Mallrats. Mallrats has about 1/20th of the genius of Blazing Saddles, but it is a masterstroke of compromise.

In conclusion, rewatchability is not necessarily a plus or a minus as far as quality goes. Certainly it is a major consideration when purchasing DVDs and Blu Rays, but the only reason I have a half-classy movie collection is because I ask for 5 Star movies for gifts. However, it is only half-classy because I also ask for movies like Hellboy, The Hangover, and Hero.

The Harder They Come

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***

Okay, okay. Send out one bad man. One who can draw. Come on, send out one bad man.

This movie starts off with an upbeat song on a crowded Jamaican bus. The star is a “country boy” named Ivan—Jimmy Cliff. While the dialect of English spoken in Jamaica makes me wonder if Black people in Harlem in 1972 could have even understood this without subtitles. Fortunately, most of it gets subbed to help clarify the dialogue.

Ivan comes with dreams of making a record, but he has no day job and no luck finding one. Even his own mother will not let him stay at her place—she does only have one bed. His mother sends her to Preacher–Basil Keane–for help finding a job, which he provides. Unfortunately they both want the same “pretty” young thing. Soon Preacher is a problem, as is the corrupt record producer Hilton–Bob Charlton. As time goes by Ivan just keeps racking up enemies. With thirty minutes to go I know how this story ends.

The part of the story that I do not get, is how far Ivan’s love interest falls. She was a choir singer, raised by Preacher. She roots for the Feds capturing marijuana smugglers, so why stay with him? The film sadly lacks answers to the most important relationship of the first half of the film.

What saves this movie is Jimmy Cliff the singer, which tides you over while Jimmy Cliff the actor learns his craft. This is of musical significance because this is the film that led to the popularity of reggae outside of Jamaica. That is huge. For film history, it is of less importance, but it clearly  influenced City of G-d. 

The Hebrew Hammer

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**½

Well, I mean, I don’t know what kind of host it is that treats their company this way. Esther is clearly unhappy with the guest room you’ve provided her with. I’m shvitzing from running around all over the place shooting people.

This is an amusingly crappy movie. I like Adam Goldberg, Judy Greer and the rest of the cast. Well, not Andy Dick, who does? The story is about how Any Dick kills his father, Santa Clause, and tries to ruin Channukah. A Jew-sploitation film, which appropriately exploits Black people as well, with a man who appreciates that, Mario Van Peebles. I just hope that all the Jews in the film were played by actual Jews. It would just seem so inappropriate to fake that, like having a samurai movie with, say, a Tom Cruise as a samurai.

Ted

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**½

Thunder buddies for life, right, Johnny?

This is a movie that fans of Family Guy will enjoy. If you are not a fan, then there is not much for you. I happen to enjoy Family Guy, but that does not mean that this was a good movie. My buddy Curt analyzed this movie perfectly—it could not make up its mind as to whether it wanted to be serious, or a dumb comedy. So it was tonally all over the place.

If you have not heard of this movie, or if this is in the future and you want to read this before watching Ted 2: Masters of the Universe this is a movie about a teddy bear whose owner’s wish makes him real. Or so Patrick Stewart’s voiceover tells us. That was the best part of the movie. I am sure that some people geeked out over Sam Jones—Flash Gordon—being in the film, but that will be only a small set of people, mostly in their mid 30’s.

This movie definitely has appealed to a broader swath than that and hopefully this will incite Seth MacFarlane to work harder on directing. Unfortunately, the commercial success will probably just validate his process and lead to an Adam Sandler-esque career slide. And hopefully it won’t involve more over-the-top Boston accents, not that Mark Wahlberg sounded bad.

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