Archive for September, 2008

Missing in Action

Monday, September 29th, 2008

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In the 1980s, two American action stars did what what our military was never able to do: win in Vietnam. Sylvester Stallone defeated those dirty bastards in 1985’s Rambo II: First Blood (what a confusing title,) and Carlos Ray Norris (or, Chuck, as he is also known) portrayed James Braddock in the Missing in Action films, where he killed just about every other person on the continent of Asia. Just about. In 1984, Missing in Action was released, followed right a year later by Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

The first two Missing in Action movies were filmed simultaneously (long before Peter Jackson “borrowed” this process for his Lord of the Rings films), and originally the second Missing in Action was going to be the first one, until the producers realized it wasn’t very good, switched the sequel to the original, and made the first one a prequel. Man, confusing. Anyway, the producers were right, but only barely. Missing in Action is probably not a good movie, but for a cheesy Chuck Norris 80s action film, it will do just fine.

All Chuck Norris characters have a moral code, which usually amounts to this; a lone wolf who does not want to be pestered with missions to right any wrongs, but eventually caves in and saves the day, killing lots and lots of gun-toting foreigners along the way (usually Asians, but if they’re not around, Russians or anybody from Latin America will do). As far as Chuck’s 80s films go, I prefer Code of Silence, Lone Wolf McQuade or The Delta Force, but Missing in Action is rightly mentioned alongside them. Invasion USA (where Chuck takes on the Soviet Union) is not as good as Red Dawn, a film that also deals with Russia invading America, but it’s entertaining (I also have a soft-spot in my heart for the God-awful Firewalker, a Indiana Jones rip-off with Chuck and Louis Gossett Jr. as his wise-cracking best pal.

Anyway, Missing in Action stars Chuck as Colonel James Braddock, a Vietnam Veteran and former P.O.W. who, as the film’s main story starts, has just agreed to testify in Vietnam that American soldiers are still being held prisoner in 1984 (the movie opens with Braddock’s capture, many years before). The diabolical General Trau (James Hong, who always seems to play evil Asians) denies that any Americans are still being held prisoner, but Braddock knows better, because it’s James Hong, and he always plays a bad dude. With the help of an intrepid reporter (Lenore Kasdorf), Braddock learns that there ARE American soldiers still in some hidden jungle prison.

Eventually, Braddock teams up with his old war buddy Tuck (M. Emmet Walsh, looking as grizzled and haggard as ever) to rescue his fellow soldiers. I guess Braddock and Tuck fought in ‘Nam together, although Walsh looks (even in 1984) pretty damn old. I’d say maybe he fought in World War I, maybe. The plot is just an excuse for Chuck to kill a lot of people. A lot.

Missing in Action is not as quite up to the level of one of Chuck’s true 80s classics (I really should write a review of Lone Wolf McQuade someday), but it’s violent and cheesy, and definitely a good 80s action film.

Made of Honor

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

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I guess it serves me right. This trailers and ads for this movie looked horrible, and its star, Patrick Dempsey, I find to be one of the least talented “big” name contemporary actors. I had no reason to see this movie. None. So, on the plane from Barcelona back to the United States (Newark, New Jersey, to be exact), after I had watched three worthwhile films on my laptop computer, I decided to watch Made of Honor on the Airline TV in front of me because…I don’t know. I guess, as one of my friends so aptly put it once, I am a movie whore.

Anyway, no big surprises here, but this movie is pretty bad. Not only is it bad, but it’s also not funny. One reason the film doesn’t work is about 20 minutes into the film, when platonic best friends Tom (Dempsey) and Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) are slow dancing, looking into each others’ eyes, we know they’re in love, and the movie should have ended there. It would have if the film didn’t have a case of what the great critic Roger Ebert calls an “idiot plot,” where the plot could be resolved much earlier if all the characters in the film weren’t idiots.

Ok, I’ll admit it, most romantic comedies do not have interesting, fascinating plots. We pretty much know that the two characters will get together at the end. But, you see, good romantic comedies have a few elements missing here: funny dialogue, funny characters, funny situations and, oh yeah, THE LEADS SHOULD AT LEAST HAVE SOME CHEMISTRY TOGETHER. Sorry, but that felt like an all caps-lock kind of moment. Dempsey and Monaghan are supposed to be best friends, but they don’t even seem like neighbors who speak to each other occasionally. So, the lack of any feeling at all between them doesn’t help.

It also doesn’t help that the romantic rival, played by Kevin McKidd (from the terrific HBO show “Rome”) seems like a better fit for Hannah than Tom does. Ok, he’s a bit bland, but then again, so is she. So is Tom. In fact, so is everybody just about. Even Kathleen Quinlan, who usually adds a little something to the films she appears in, seems totally at a loss in this film. The only actor who gives a decent performance is the late Sydney Pollack as Dempsey’s often married (and divorced) father. But, he’s in it for maybe eight minutes.

This is a boring, watered down romantic comedy, the kind of cookie-cutter garbage that gets churned out quickly, consumed by mass audiences of bored, sheltered movie-goers, then quickly scuttled to DVD where it can make a few bucks. It’s not interesting, it’s not romantic, it’s not funny, but most of all, it’s not good.

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

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Burn After Reading

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

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For me, the release of a new Coen Brothers’ film is a big deal. Not only do I believe that they’ve never made a bad film (every one of their films is worth watching at least four times), but I am convinced that they are two of the most talented American filmmakers in the last thirty years. Each of their films offers a twist on a Hollywood genre or sub-genre: Fargo was the police procedural thriller, Miller’s Crossing was their gangster film and No Country for Old Men was their version of a slasher film, with Javier Bardem’s terrifying portrayal of Anton Chigurh, who is every bit as frightening, omnipresent and unstoppable as Jason Vorhees.

Now comes their take on the spy genre, a brutally violent and very funny take on espionage, that centers on an extended circle of self-centered, nasty people. Only, they’re mostly all very rich and most of them are secret agents, or at least involved in the upper levels of important government agencies. The film could have been called “Spies Behaving Badly,” and it would have been completely accurate. The film stars George Clooney, who also starred in the Coen Brothers’ films O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty, and costars Coen Muse (and Joel’s real-life wife) Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins.

The plot is multi-layered, and the details of the story pile on top of each other, but, very simply, it’s about a recently fired CIA agent by the name of Osborne Cox (played by Malkovich), and the memoir he plans to write on his years in the Agency (Malkovich’s pronunciation of the word ‘memoir’ is one of the film’s many delights.) The twisty plot also involves Cox’s cheating wife (Swinton), her lover, a paranoid, philandering government employee (Clooney), a ambitious health club employee obsessed with her body image (McDormand), her dull-witted friend (Pitt, who sports a hilariously hideous hairstyle) and her boss, played by the great Richard Jenkins.

The film is dark and bloody, but it’s also a satire, and the characters, though all unlikable idiots, are engaging and well performed by a pitch-perfect ensemble. The tone of the film is set by an early scene in which Malkovich is fired, and his enunciation of each word (including some well place ‘F-bombs’) and his over-the-top hand and arm movements help introduce the excessive, ridiculous world we have just entered. Although the whole cast was great, I especially liked Malkovich, McDormand and Pitt’s work, as well as David Rasche as Malkovich’s CIA superior, and J.K. Simmons’ as Rasche’s CIA superior.

Burn After Reading is a hilarious, compulsively watchable film about a group of very nasty, but very entertaining, people.