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Independence Day

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**½

Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

Is there any other quotation I could possibly have gone with? Everything else was dependent on the actor’s accent or style. Try to imagine someone besides Jeff Goldblum Bill Pullman delivering those lines. NOTE I confused the poor lines that Goldblum had to deliver, and the spine tingling speech above! But dammit, Jeff Goldblum did the best he could. His performance was especially impressive considering what he was tasked with in the 90s.  For instance, how are you supposed to deliver a snappy comeback to elicit laughter following lots of deaths? Roland Emmerich will tell you how — like Jeff F’n Goldblum.

About Roland Emmerich…I do not know if he has a misanthropy problem, or if he just loves overcoming impossible odds through gibberish science problem. Here is what we know about Roland:

1. He loves blowing stuff up;
2. He loves landmarks;
3. He loves blowing up landmarks; and
4. He uses flash wipes, which are only ever appropriate when the Men in Black take away your memory.

You can imagine what scenes took place in this movie. Also, what is with those flash wipes? And why did he give Randy Quaid a “hero” theme in the score? If Randy merits his own theme, which he does not, then it should have been one with the hint of redemption, not a spoiler alerting hero one.

Here are the rest of my disjointed thoughts, presented chronologically:

Why does SETI not pick up the aliens until the ship is at the moon?
Great effect for the first appearance of the ships, awesome.
Good shocks, but cutesy.
Laughter after hundreds of thousands and maybe millions are dead. Why? Because this is supposed to be a fun massive death movie. Also, Roland Emmerich is an misanthrope who just wants to watch the world burn. I made this point above, but he likes to repeat stuff so I can do it too.
Why are the pilots so, for lack of a better term, d-bag-y?
Harry Connick, Jr. could not die fast enough.
How is Will Smith’s jet out of gas?!?
YES! Tank top plus flannel unbuttoned and untucked! In jeans without a belt! The single most 90’s look ever.
Judd Hirsch gets in the “nobody’s perfect” line as an homage to Some Like It Hot.
And lastly, returning to Randy Quaid — Flying while going through withdrawal is probably worse than flying drunk.

One last big footnote. Emmerich directed a movie called Stonewall in 2015. While it was not favorably received, there were no monsters (other than human ones) in the time that lead up to the Stonewall Riots in New York City, so why did he make this? I have no clue.

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Hocus Pocus

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hocuspocus

The witches of Hocus Pocus, Mary, Winifred and Sarah Sanderson (Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler & Sarah Jessica Parker), © 1993 Walt Disney.

Oh Hocus Pocus. What shall I do with you? Focus on your highlights? Destroy you in a way I usually reserve for movies that Garry Marshall directs (and not ones he makes cameos in1)? Try to bring a fresh analysis to it? Turn this into a list?

**

Pull over! Let me see your driver’s permit!

Surprise! I am going to do all of the above!

A. The Highlights:

  1. The film had excellent special effects. Considering the year, 1993, and the target audience, kids, the flying and the explosions were surprisingly good.
  2. The actors attacked their roles with gusto. Sarah Jessica Parker and Vinessa Shaw deserve special credit for doing so. Bette Midler also fully committed to her character.
  3. Doug Jones played Billy Butcherson and a different actor, Karyn Malchus got credited as Headless Billy Butcherson.

B. Criticism: This film had so, so many plots holes. I am not even adept at spotting plot holes, but these popped up all over the place. For one, there waas a high school with a functional room sized kiln that could easily be used to lock people inside to incinerate. How did that wind up in a Massachusetts public school?!? Or if you prefer an oral plot hole, the quote I pulled about the driver’s license appalled me as Bette Midler said it. Her character, an ancient witch brought back to life for one night because a black candle was lit by a virgin on Halloween, did not know what a bus was, or how it worked. A few hours later she was flying up to a car and cracking wise about a driver’s permit. This leads to my next criticism, that almost every scene had contrived, awful dialogue. Most scenes were just setups for unfunny quips from Midler, whom I do not blame, since she did not write them.2  Midler also attacked her sisters constantly for being dumb or slutty. That transitions into my third, and final, criticism, that none of the relationships in the film make sense. Midler was a jerk and her sisters, Parker and Najimy took it all with a smile on their faces or with a grimace of momentary confusion. They were related by blood at least, whereas Omri Katz and Vinessa Shaw seemed like a male fantasy matchup. She was beautiful, kind, intelligent, patient, tall, and able to stay out all night without getting into trouble with her parents. On the other hand Katz is a horny idiot who almost gets dozens of children murdered because he is a horny idiot. The only positives that came out of his actions were attempts to unscrew things up. The sole benefit from the whole story was that an undead boy stuck in a cat’s body for 300 years gets to die to rejoin his sister in heaven. It is difficult to express how soul-crushing typing that sentence was.

Look how poorly lit this shot is. Jeez.

Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw & Omri Katz as Dani, Allison and Max in Hocus Pocus.

C. Something New: Identifying the genre of this film is actually quite difficult. IMDb has 155 plot keywords listed for it. None of those words include kidnapping. This undermines my confidence in what people have focused on when watching this movie, because kidnapping children is kind of a major focus of the film, and this leads to unwanted touching of teenage boys by adult female witches. From here I found the actual genre—unnecessarily sexual nostalgic kids movie. I never watched this movie as a kid, but I know from fbook that the people who did seem to still love it. The quality of the film does not support this feeling, which is where the complicated emotion nostalgia comes into play. Like Stand By Me before it, this film clearly attempts to tap into this emotion in adults, but more strongly embeds within its children viewers that seed of future nostalgia. Had that been the only driving force behind the film its plot and genre would be easier to address, but oh hell no. Instead Vinessa Shaw, while not dressed provocatively, is certainly a woman presented as a teenage girl. Had horny idiot been a man, this would be more equal, but he looked and seemed like a horny idiot teen—listen for the use of the word “yabbos” regarding Ms. Shaw. And then there is Sarah Jessica Parker. I have always found her attractive, but I never would have described her as buxom. This film goes out of its way to corset her into showing so much cleavage that I remembered that ‘buxom’ is an English word. But visually that is not enough. She basically tries to have sex with the bus driver upon meeting him. For no reason. And this is the bus driver who is 100% on board with finding children for these women and their “forbidden desires.” Shuddering yet? Anyways, in the end she, the slut, dies, while horny idiot, the virgin, lives. How traditional for a horror movie. Well, at least they are both idiots, so there is that level of equality in the movie.

There you have it. If I could go back and unwatch this movie so that I would not have these opinions I probably would. Still, it made me think, and usually that is a good thing.

1 He plays the devil and he is married to a regular woman played by his real life sister Penny Marshall. Fortunately they are portrayed non-sexually. Still Penny’s role was not entertaining.
2 That honor goes to screenwriters Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert. Cuthbert’s last script was The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which is allegedly Eddie Murphy’s worst film—that is an amazing feat, if true.

Spy Hard & The Crap Barrier

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Marty (Ernest Borgnine).

Marty (Ernest Borgnine).

Marty has a runtime of 90 minutes. Do you know Marty? The 1955 Academy Award winner for Best Picture starring Ernest Borgnine as a butcher who falls in love with Betsy Blair. Yeah, I have not seen it either, but I know someone who did that said it was a sweet movie. In any event, it is the shortest film to win Best Picture in academy history. That fittingly sets the bar at how short a movie can, or should, be. According to Kevin Smith, the ideal length for a comedy is 97 minutes. 8 of his 11 movies come within 7 minutes of that goal. All but 1 (Dogma) come within 10 minutes of it. Whether or not you like him as a director, the man clearly has skills as an editor and can put together coherent stories with good comedic timing and appropriate doses of comedy. I do not know if 97 is a magic number, but what I do know is that movies that come in under 90 minutes tend to be crappy.

Now there are exceptions to the rule. Smith’s Red State was only 88 minutes, but so was Jon Avnet’s 88 MinutesRed State was pretty good, while 88 Minutes was definitely not. And Jon Avnet can direct well, in fact he directed Fried Green Tomatoes. FGT comes in at 130 minutes. This is probably because FGT had lots of good acting and interesting dialogue from which to choose, unlike 88 Minutes which could not even cobble together 90 minutes. Therein lies the premise of my theory—short movies are short because they do not have even good stuff to reach 90 minutes. There is no corresponding converse of this, where long movies are necessarily good ones. The Transformers movies have all been over 142 minutes, with the latest, and probably crappiest, clocking in at 2 hours 43 minutes. Each one of those could have been a less bad 88 minute movie than it was at full length, if only because it would have wasted less of the viewer’s time in telling its incoherent, poorly designed plot with terrible and occasionally offensive dialogue.

Another exception to this is the phenomenal comedy Office Space, which is 89 minutes long. That is truly a great movie and can be forgiven for coming up a minute short. It also highlights that this 90 minute “crap barrier” is a warning sign, not a determining factor. Just like when movies have the cast and crew tell me how good the movie is, instead of just showing a trailer. Does that mean that they could not splice together even 90 seconds of enticing material? Maybe, but I have yet to see a movie that was advertised in that manner that did not suck. Maybe The BFG will be good because Steven Spielberg directed it and he has two Academy Awards and only directs one not good movie each decade, which is amazing. The runtime may be correlated to the quality, but it does not cause a movie to be a good or bad.

Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard, © Hollywood Pics. 1996.

Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard, © Hollywood Pics. 1996.

I wanted a vehicle to discuss my long held theory, and then I saw Spy Hard available on Netflix. Netflix listed the runtime at 81 minutes…a solid 9 under the crap barrier. Now I watched the movie on VHS in the 1990s, but as a 14 year old, so I might have been too mature to appreciate it. Maybe twenty years later I would like it better. While watching I made a list of all the times I laughed out loud, and here is that list:

  1. In a nightclub a man wearing a shirt that says “I ♥ to party” gets a knife thrown into the heart symbol, and says “Why…” with a pained and confused look on his face.1

Okay that is the entire list. That said, thinking back to the scene made me smile and I started to laugh again. I have another list though, this comprises of all the other parts of the film that have any merit:

  1. “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Spy Hard theme song and video. Is it one of his best songs? No, but the parody of the classic Bond imagery is done well and the lyrics are solid.

Yup, that was it. The plot serves merely as a vehicle to move from unfunny parody to unfunny parody. James Bond was clearly pitched as the idea, but the movie takes aim at dozens of popular films from the late 80s and early 90s. In no particular order, they go after SpeedIn the Line of FireSister Act AND Nuns on the Run2Mission: Impossible, Cliffhanger, “The A-Team”, True Lies, E.T., Rambo, Jurassic ParkPulp Fiction, and Home Alone. None of which was funny. Literally everything about this movie was bad, with the exception of I Love to Party and the theme song. It makes Dracula: Dead and Loving It look like the original (almost 5 star) Naked Gun. Directed by Rick Friedberg in his sole feature film outing, the story stars Leslie Nielsen playing Leslie Nielsen AKA Dick Steele, Agent WD-40. Did reading Agent WD-40 make you laugh? If so, then you should watch this movie and then please never vote in an election again. Or drive a car. You might hear someone fart on the sidewalk, crack up, roll into the intersection, and cause a collision. Just stay home and enjoy more movies. I recommend the ones that are under 90 minutes.

1 Proofreading this post I started to laugh again remembering the scene. Unfortunately no clip or screenshot exists because no-one cared enough to make that happen.
2 I had to add this to IMDb because it has somehow been overlooked! It stars Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane. I remember it being very amusing when I saw it as a kid. Although it is only 89 minutes…

Beyond the Mat

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***

You have to be a prick in this business. If you don’t, the wrestlers will run all over you. Their egos are such and-and-and their characters are such that they will just walk all over you. So if you think you can be a nice guy and be a successful promoter in professional wrestling, you better get out of this business right now.

beyondmatdvdRolandAlexander

Roland Alexander, (unfairly) presented as a villain in Beyond the Mat, © 1999, source – wrestlingdvdnetwork.com

This film was much more important than it was good. The level of access this schlub, Barry W. Blaustein–The Ringer, obtained from WWF (now WWE), amazes me today. It amazed me in 1999 when I first saw this too. This was less than a decade from when Vince McMahon outed the business as a work, and not a genuine contest. Contrast that with today where former and current wrestlers have some of the most downloaded podcasts in the world and talk about every aspect of the industry. Maybe this flawed and biased movie helped pro wrestling go in that direction.

The real takeaway from the documentary is that wrestlers are deeply flawed people who have huge difficulties having families. That aging sucks. That they are like knights, living by their own code. I could talk about wrestling for hours, so instead I will point out why I called this movie flawed. It has a few points it wants to make and shoehorns its characters into telling those stories. Clearly Blaustein learned a ton about wrestling and identified some archetypes, but then, as a wrestling promoter is wont to do, presented his characters how he saw them, how he wanted us to see them, and not how they truly were. That said, the movie is still effective and the last 20 minutes are like a classic tragedy, with Mick Foley and his family leading up to his disastrous match with the Rock at the Royal Rumble 1999. It just happens to be a classic tragedy with lame voiceover and one I wish I could unsee.

The Mummy

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**½

The language of the slaves. I may have use for you. And the rewards will be great.

And the best quotation from the ride is, “Your end will be my beginning.”

To be cruel or to be kind? If I were speaking to someone who worked on the film I would certainly be polite and focus on the positives. On the other hand, people like biting reviews. I do want to say that I generally enjoyed watching the movie, in a National Treasure sort of way.

To be kind…the cast for this movie was excellent. Brendan Fraser–Rick–is not well regarded, but he has shown in movies like The Quiet American that he really has acting chops.  Rachel Weisz hides much of her skill behind a zany character here–Evy. Her resumé is weaker than I thought, but The Constant Gardener was very good. John Hannah, Evy’s brother, may not be a family name, but he did a great job as Dr. Gerard in the excellent episode of Poirot, “Appointment with Death.” That was a great episode—Tim Curry was in it, I believe. It was more a movie than an episode. Arnold Vosloo does a good job as the Mummy/Imhotep. My favorite role of his career is as the Mummy in Universal Studio’s The Mummy’s Revenge, which is a great ride. Kevin J. O’Connor plays Beni and makes him seem what was once called “ethnic”. I do not know why this American was cast as such. I did like the part where he speaks Hebrew, that is probably the highlight of the movie—see the above quotation. Note, there are not many women in this movie, which is too bad. Anyways, Jonathan Hyde seems respectful towards Egyptian history and culture, so I do not know what he was doing in this film. He was also very entertaining in Anaconda, as the English jerk. But the two gems in the rough are Erick Avari and Corey Johnson. Avari was #127 on IMDb’s Top 250 Underrated Actors—here is my take on that. And Corey Johnson has memorable roles in Bourne SupremacyUnited 93, and Captain Phillips. Oh and I almost forgot Patricia Velasquez, since she is really only in the first scenes. But she was Marta #2 on “Arrested Development” and looks amazing as Anck Su Namun.

See? Totally gorgeous.

Patricia Velasquez as Anck Su Namun in 1999’s The Mummy.

Plus, in some ways this was a better movie than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—mostly in that it was not a big disappointment. It was fun to watch with friends while eating traditional movie theater snacks. And lastly, the soundtrack was fine.

To be unkind…what the hell is with the premise of this movie? High Priest Imhotep falls for the Pharaoh’s wife, Anck Su Namun. That name appears to be, and Google agrees with me on this, Ankhesenamun. Maybe you know her better as Ankhesenpaaten, or maybe you know her better as King Tut’s queen/half-sister. So Imhotep wanted her. But he died 1300 years before her birth. What does that make her, a Tomb robber? Does it make him a millennial cradle robber? Having done some research I have learned that this was not the fault of this movie, but in fact of the 1932 classic Mummy.

If I did not lose everyone with my take on the love story, then I will proceed to more cogent criticisms. First, what was with the image quality in this movie? It intercuts from movie quality film to what appears to be home video. The home video might actually have been higher quality or some higher frame rate, but as it was thrown in only occasionally throughout fight scenes, it was jarring and took me out of the movie repeatedly.

Mummy

Rick (Fraser) fights while Beni (O’Connor) runs at the Battle of Hamunaptra. 1999 Universal Pics. The Mummy. It looks good too, unlike the next home video type shot.

Second, the lame jokes with no sense of priorities. The library shelves falling down was visually interesting, but then it never gets cleaned up. When Rick is to be hanged the jokes keep coming and haggling ensues while his dying body kicks. Men being on fire or left to die on ship also gets played for laughs. The tone of the movie jumps from that distasteful irreverence to wanting us to care about the characters. See what I just did there?

Third, both sides have terrible plans. Just awful plans, which they abandon, especially if the plan actually happened to be working. In the words of the Mummy’s wiki, “[Imhotep] proclaimed that as Evelyn died, his lover would live, and he would become invincible. About to stab Evelyn with the dagger, he was interrupted by Jonathan, who had found the Book of Amun-Ra.” Let me highlight that logically, IF Mummy stab down, then Mummy invincible. No qualifiers. All he needed to do was stab, instead of stopping to listen and then goofing off for five minutes. True, if the book of Amun-Ra were used correctly, the Mummy would have been screwed, and lo and behold, he was eventually, but just stab her! She is tied to the altar!

The-Mummy-Sacrificial-Dagger-4

Stab! Stab! Stab! I could find no good images, so this screenshot used to sell replicas must do.

Four, what was with the ten plagues? While they occurred in Egypt they had nothing to do with Imhotep. The Pharaoh was not even a Ramesses in this story! Yet everyone in the movie just thinks that this Mummy coming back to life will parallel the plagues visited upon Mitrzayim by God, to punish and warn the Egyptians.  And there was no plague of mind control! Boils do not explain mind control!

Well, the important thing is to look on the bright side and be glad that the Mummy was dead at the end and the heroes were safe. The end. Wait, what? There was a sequel? Sequels?? Well there must be a silver lining, at least tell me that this franchise helps jumpstart Dwayne Johnson’s non-Rock career?  Speaking of which…anyone have a copy of The Scorpion King I can borrow? I have not seen it since it was in theaters. Now hit that sweet Godsmack theme Scorpion King had!

The Hunt for Red October

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*****
Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan. Now that is a quote that is applicable in so many situations. My other favorite quotation is much less useful, since it offends whomever you address, You arrogant ass, you’ve killed us!

The late Fred Thompson in The Hunt for Red October.

The late Fred Thompson in The Hunt for Red October.

I was shocked to realize that I had not rated/reviewed this film. It is one of my favorites and one I have seen at least four times since I started logging my viewing. I could probably write 500-600 words on this easily, but I doubt I would convince many people to change their minds twenty five years after this film’s glorious release.

Thus my review is that the music (Basil Pouledaris) is amazing. The acting is amazing. The story is amazing. The cinematography is amazing. The number of women in the film is amazing, by which I mean it’s really only Gates McFadden–Dr. Beverly Crusher from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”–for one scene. I could excuse this because it’s about the CIA and US Government and US and Soviet Navies, but excusing present sexism because of past sexism is weak sauce. That criticism aside, I love this film and can only hope that it gets remade with an all-female cast, but then I will probably hate it for not being as good as the original, because remakes almost never live up to the originals.

Here is a complete list of all remakes that lived up to the originals (I excluded re-adaptations like The Quiet American, nor TV shows Miami Vice, and but did include a few unofficial remakes, because otherwise I had so few movies):

  • A Fistful of Dollars—Clint Eastwood’s first movie with Ennio Morricone, oops, I mean Sergio Leone, which is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo with Toshiro Mifune.
  • Snatch—Not officially a remake of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but it certainly feels like one.
  • The Good, The Bad, The Weird—Again, probably not an official remake so much as an homage, but this is a hard freaking list to make, okay?
  • Fist of Legend—I just reviewed this Jet Li classic remake of Bruce Lee’s classic The Chinese Connection.
  • Bad News Bears—Billy Bob Thornton does a good job with the whole Walter Matthau role.
  • The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3—Denzel Washington does a very different job with the whole Walter Matthau role.
  • True Grit—Jeff Bridges or John Wayne, take your pick.
  • Insomnia—Al Pacino or Stellan Skarsgård, take your pick.
  • Maleficent—Live action Sleeping Beauty, from the fairy’s perspective.

Fist of Legend

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****½
Men don’t have to tell women everything.
Hou Ting-An (Chin Siu Ho) and Chen Zhen (Jet Li) battle for mastery of Jingwu Martial Arts Academy, Fist of Legend, 1994.

Hou Ting-An (Chin Siu Ho) and Chen Zhen (Jet Li) battle for mastery of Jingwu Martial Arts Academy, Fist of Legend, 1994.

Watching this movie for the first time in over a decade I realize that my memory correctly identified this as one of the greatest kung fu films of all time. This singlehandedly reminded me why I loved Jet Li so much. It is difficult to express how awesome this movie was to me when I was 16. I rank this between The Shawshank Redemption and Clerks on my Best of 1994 list.  So, allow me to tell you why it is so great and what lessons one needs to help appreciate its greatness.
Everyone knows Jet Li, or at least recognize him on sight. When I mention Yuen Woo Ping I wonder how many people remember him.  Well this movie is from 1998 and one year later he was choreographing THE MATRIX. Put another way, the Wachowskis basically said, you’re welcome white people, for hiring him to do that. This is not Yuen’s most famous movie, but it ranks up there as one of his very best.
Even with Yuen’s American appreciation, the style of the movie will be jarring. In fact, it is probably much more so now, unless you like classic Kung Fu—as the 1970s are now four decades ago. The style is like a better acted version of Bruce Lee’s classics like The Chinese Connection and Fist of Fury. That is appropriate since this is…a remake of The Chinese Connection! The movie is set before World War II and the Japanese are mostly the villains, yet some of them are respected and loved. In particular the Karate master Funakoshi (Yasuaki Kurata) shows the honor that Japanese men can embody. Along with that sensei’s niece Mitsuko (Shinobu Nakayama) who loves Chen Zhen.  In fact, this might have the least propaganda of Jet Li’s Chinese movies, but it also serves to highlight how propaganda is just one form of art with a message.
Throughout my viewing there were so many times when I thought, “oh this is the best part”, because it has been so long since I watched a movie like this. This happened in the following scenes:
A. When the Chinese get portrayed as equally racist as the Japanese, in a Chinese movie.
B. When the movie jumps to tackle so many issues, from forbidden love to duty.
C. Blindfold fight scene/hay fight with Funakoshi.
D. Locals turning on the hero!
E. The demonstration of the antagonist’s (Billy Chow) strength.
F. And last, but not least, the music of Steve Edwards. I am pretty sure he must’ve done Police Academy.
So if this foreign film is foreign to you, do not let it remain so! If you love kung fu, this is the movie for you. If you do not like kung fu, then this is a great way to fall in love with it.

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