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Face/Off

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**½

OK, then… plan B, why don’t we just kill each other?

face-off-cage-travolta.jpgJohn Woo is a great director. I can understand how American moviegoers from 1996 – 2003 might not have realized this, but I assure you that he is great. His American run for me started with Broken Arrow, a movie that reinvigorated Christian Slater’s career, by attaching himself to John Travolta’s reinvigorated career. A year later Woo teamed up again with John Travolta to make this movie. Three years after this he got hired to make Mission: Impossible II. Then came Paycheck in 2003. To describe these movies as critically panned would be accurate. But financially they all crushed it, except for Paycheck which was poorly marketed—how else can a John Woo adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story starring Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman and Paul Giamatti, with a score from John Powell not make money?

This is a long way of saying that I think that although Face/Off is over the top, self-seriously cheesy, and just plain ridiculous, I think it was well directed. There were so many stunts and so many action shots. Internationally this film made more than it did domestically, which makes sense considering how a functional understanding of English probably detracted from the enjoyment of the film. So if you want an exciting action movie directed by John Woo…you should probably watch Hard Boiled, but if that is not available, this one would do the trick.

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Ladybugs

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**

What’d you do? A girl doesn’t give the opposing team the finger and tell their coach, “Up yours!” A girl doesn’t refer to the referee a blind bastard. A girl doesn’t slap another girl on the ass and say, “You’re hot stuff!” And a girl doesn’t say “I gotta take a leak so bad I can taste it!”

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First off, let me say that “How Did This Get Made” deserves all the credit for getting me to watch this movie again. It is unlikely that anything I say here will be half as funny as what they said. So just click that link and be shocked at how disturbing and offensive this Rodney Dangerfield soccer comedy really is.

One thing their review touched on, but I do not think they connected it, was that the inappropriately sexualized teenage girl in this film was played by Vinessa Shaw, who was 17 when this was filmed. She was 16 when she was inappropriately sexualized in Hocus Pocus. Even under these conditions she seems like a solid actress, but it is still so gross to watch as an adult. As the podcast repeatedly hammers home — if this story were told from the point of view of the teenagers, this could have been different, but it was not, and that makes it far creepier. But hey, when I was 11 I thought this was funny, so if it were not full of awful life lessons and offensive stereotypes, I would say it’s just a movie for kids. But it is not. It definitely is not.

Defending Your Life

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**½

I said “pretty much” never lied. I didn’t say I never, ever lied. You have to lie sometimes… in an emergency. But, ah, it doesn’t mean the bond is affected. If you’ve got the bond the bond is always there, and if you have to lie occasionally you’re not going to interfere with the bond. You know, the bond can wait for a little lie and… in the end it’s there for you. You know, sometimes in the middle of a lie I found that the bond would kick in… maybe squeeze a little truth out.

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This Albert Brooks movie is very Albert Brooksian. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. As writer/director/lead actor he can really, really tell a story about himself. The premise for this story seems like it would be harrowing — Judgment City, with one week to defend your life. But this is a comedy, so the stakes are actually extremely low. If you win, you get to evolve. If you lose, you get sent back to earth to be reincarnated as a human again with no memory of this experience. Even evolving does not seem objectively better than being a new human. The basis for this determination is that two “Big Brains” provide snippets from the decedent’s life before two judges. The basis for their judgment? Fear. During life did the decedent overcome fear? Not maturity, kindness, bravery, empathy, but fear. Note, they do not look for bravery directly, more a lack of fear. Bravery involves facing your fears, not failing to have fears in the first place.

Presented in even lower stakes than the nebbish-y Brooks, is Brooks’s love interest, Meryl Streep. Her story is totally subordinate to Brooks’s. She is a slam dunk for evolving, so you never need to worry for her. She died leaving behind her kids and husband on earth, but she is presented as totally available to Brooks. She is presented as the perfect woman, which her prodigious acting skill allows her to portray despite Brooks’s self-centered view.

Fear is the driving force on determining your…value? maturity? worth? Why not if you’re a good person? Streep is so completely fine in this situation, she wasn’t a real character. Her acting covered up a lot (bad writing), but what do you expect from such a narcissistic project. And since it was so self-centered the film fails to ask why is this angel at all attracted to this putz? The second best performance in the film goes to Rip Torn’s Bob Diamond. The best part of the film was the look and creation of Judgment City.

As I wrap up this review, I think it is important to include that I did not buy the ending. But this film was not made for me to watch, it was made for Albert Brooks to watch and to make his friends watch with him.

Deadly China Hero

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I seldom drink wine, because I always killed others after drunk. OR I seldom drink wine, because I can’t stop giving heavy punches when drunk.

The best translation has to be somewhere between those two statements. Hopefully from the small image I chose, you can already tell that this movie does not take itself very seriously. If you search for large images “Jet Li chicken vs centipede” you only get 1 result! And it’s of the secondary/tertiary villain who gets killed by Wong Fei Hung’s disciples, one of whom is Ah So with cinema’s largest fake buck teeth.

At this point I have no idea what to give this movie. The opening was so jarringly awful that I texted a college buddy, with whom I am sure I watched this movie, “Deadly China Hero (Jet Li) is not good. I don’t understand why this movie exists. I want to know why we enjoyed it at the time.” I decided to continue watching so I could review it anyways. The subtitles were not great, the acting over the top, which some people can pull off, and others cannot. For some context Deadly China Hero (aka Last Hero in China) is Jet Li in 1993 portraying China’s greatest folk hero, Wong Fei-Hung. Jet Li is my favorite Wong Fei Hung, and when I say that, I am choosing him over Jackie Chan as the Drunken Master! Master Wong gets called the Chinese Robin Hood, probably because he stood up for the peasants against the British in late 19th century China. In real life he was a doctor too.

Two years before this film, Jet Li became a major Chinese star with Once Upon a Time in China (Wong Fei-Hung was the Chinese name of the film). It was a serious, if propagandistic, movie. He followed it up with an awesome sequel, and a less awesome sequel. And then, he did this parody. It felt like blasphemy to hear the Wong Fei-Hung theme appropriated for parody—it’s actually a version of On General’s Orders, which I just learned. But somewhere I started to get invested in the kidnapping story, probably a little more with each awesome Jet Li fight scene. We are talking Yuen Woo-Ping here! The guy they hired to choreograph the fight scenes in The Matrix.

Jet Li did not disgrace Wong Fei-Hung here, it was more like zany people were around him. The film never turned some corner that made it fully serious, but the villain and his cackle actually became more menacing as it became more and more clear how deadly he could be. So, sure, the penultimate fight scene is chicken costume Jet Li vs deadly centipede, but the final scene gave me chills. When he grabs a jug of wine that could have been in Drunken Master, and that theme hits, I was 100% behind this film and felt the prior 78 minutes had been totally worth it to get to this scene. At 84 minutes, it comes it below the crap barrier, and in many ways, this is a crappy movie, but it has some truly wonderful moments. I would not have written this long of a review of a 1993 Jet Li movie if I hadn’t really enjoyed it.

***

Home Alone

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Christopher Columbus directed this. The same CC who ably directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. John Hughes wrote this. The same JH who scripted Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And they both did okay. But really it was the man who received the Oscar nominations that really sold this film—John Williams. You may know him better as John “Jaws” Williams, or John “Star Wars” Williams, or perhaps John “Indiana Jones” Williams. Williams presents the problem of wondering if he elevates films by having great music, or if we think his music is great because music brings us back to moments and directors like Steven Spielberg have actually provided the emotion, and not the sounds Williams recorded. Well Home Alone firmly demonstrates that JW’s music can make you care when the film has almost played defense against its viewers rooting for its characters.

**

Santy don’t visit the funeral homes, little buddy.

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Most people like this movie. I personally remembered it as being cute, but apparently it has not aged well. None of the acting is particularly good, and this includes Macaulay Culkin’s star making performance as Kevin McAllister, or, what I call the frightening results of poor parenting. Allow me to give some examples:

  1. Punishment by starvation. That will teach the child a lesson! If you make a mistake you do not eat. Who runs this family, a middle manager at a sweatshop?
  2. Letting siblings and an uncle speak very rudely. Kevin’s siblings call him names and treat him like crap. This probably comes from negligent parents who did not stop this. Even worse, they probably do it too when they get angry. From Uncle Frank, “Look what you did, you little jerk.” (Note, as this is said, Mr. McAllister is wiping up the spilled soda accidentally along with Kevin’s ticket, which is apparently not always noticed by the viewers.)
  3. Shoplifting. Growing up white in suburbia, Kevin seems to think that taking things and not paying for them is okay. When a police officer chases after him instead of facing up to what he has done and alerting the authorities to his abandonment, he runs away with his stolen goods.
  4. Not watching for cars. Kevin runs through traffic and almost gets run over in a driveway by the Wet Bandits. He is growing up in Chicago and does not know to look out for cars! How is he not dead yet?
  5. Walks in the middle of the street. Again, HE LIVES IN CHICAGO! A surprisingly suburban part of Chicago, but it’s the third largest city in the country and teeming with angry drivers.
  6. Destroys shelving without cleaning anything up. Remember when he takes things from his brother’s room by just trashing the shelves? His brothers are jerks and I am not saying they deserve better than this, more than anything this is a double indictment of how crappy the McAllisters are as parents.
  7. No moderation. Think about how much pizza he orders.
  8. Wastes food. Think about how much pizza he orders.
  9. Never calls the police. I am not saying the Chicago Police have the best reputation, but when a white kid does not call them when he knows he might be murdered you once again have to look to the parents for what, if anything, they taught him. Would he call the fire department after starting a fire? Probably not either. He did not after he lit that one guy on fire.
  10. Sets up elaborate traps to maim and injure people. I am not a psychologist, but this kid at least needs therapy. Either he has a deadly mental condition or his morality has been warped so much by his parents that he thinks thieves deserve torture, and probably death. He is just a kid, so he probably doesn’t realize how lethal his traps are. Does he think that people are Wile E. Coyotes? Has he learned nothing of human life?

With such clearly bad parents and such rude siblings, why does he want his family back? I mean, I can see wanting one or two members to come back, especially the mother he clearly feels most attached to, but why the lot of them? The lesson of the movie is how we need to appreciate the people around us and not take them for granted. Or it is a warning about children who will grow up to become villains in the Saw movie franchise, one or the other. In the end, for me, this was mostly just a waste of a good John Williams score.

Escape from L.A.

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Ha! We thought you might try that, hotshot. That’s why the first clip is loaded with blanks. Bye bye, Snake. Good luck!

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To be frank, I have never seen Escape from New York. Thus I cannot say that this was an unnecessary sequel, as much as it is an unnecessary film. I had forgotten that I had watched it until reading today’s chapter of Shea Serrano’s Basketball (and other things). Therein he drafted the 30 fictional basketball players and Snake Plissken made the list. The scene that qualifies him is where he has to make 5 buckets in 50 seconds. It is silly and capricious, and it exemplifies this film.

The highlights: Michelle Forbes as a cop named Brazen. I have always thought of her as Ensign Ro from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. So it was nice to see her getting work. Also, Kurt Russell grimaces well in the film.

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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