Saturday, March 31, 2012

Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile

Romancing the Stone
Romancing the Stone was directed by Robert Zemeckis. Besides his big blockbusters (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and recent CGI stuff like Beowulf, he made some fun little movies back in the day like this one and Death Becomes Her.
The story is about romance novelist Joan Wilder (played by Kathleen Turner) who goes to Columbia to pay a ransom to save her kidnapped sister. Wilderis resourceful, brave, and smart, just out of her element. Wilder is not an annoying damsel in distress like Willie Scott from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There is a nice piece of dramatic irony about Wilder as she is a writer of romance-adventure writer book who in reality leads a lonely boring life. Of course this changes when she has her own journey and adventure to go on. Along the way Joan Wilder meets up with Jack T. Colton (played by Michael Douglas). Colton is a rogue mercenary although he's more like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China than Indiana Jones.
Romancing the Stone drew a lot of comparisons to the Indiana Jones movies which I think was merely because Temple of Doom came out the same year. Even though both are adventure movies, Romancing the Stone takes place in the present, has no supernatural elements, and puts more of an emphasis on romance.
Danny Devito and Alfonso Arau (El Guapo from Three Amigos) both have supporting roles that are a lot of fun.
Romancing the Stone was nominated for an Oscar for best Film Editing. Although it only had a $10 million budget and the studio thought it would fail, it was a commercial hit ($76 million in the US and 8th best grossing movie of the year) and well received by critics.
Overall Romancing the Stone was a fun adventure movie although nothing special. I just wish it had a different title. The title makes sense in the context of the film but I feel like it doesn't really fit since although there is a romantic sub-plot its more about finding the stone and rescuing Joan's sister.

The Jewel of the Nile
If a movie has one sequel and I liked the first then I will usually watch the next one just for completion's sake. The one exception is if the sequel is supposed to be really bad like Caddyshack II for instance. While The Jewel of the Nile is not as good as its predecessor, it's not awful and is actually a little funnier than the original. Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito all return but this time most of the action takes place in Africa. Stage performer Avner Eisenberg made his film debut in this movie and does a great job, especially since his character is quite different than the others.
The title of this movie is actually pretty clever as the jewel is not what it seems to be.
There is filler as the run-time is 106 minutes and about 15 minutes could've easily been cut. The Jewel of the Nile was only made to quickly cash-in on the surprise success of the first movie as Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas were contractually obligated to be in sequel. All things considered it could have been a lot worse and those who liked Romancing the Stone will probably still enjoy this one.

Next Up: Several wrap-up posts featuring a variety of movies

Friday, March 30, 2012

Tron and Tron: Legacy

I tried to watch this movie on two separate occasions when I was younger but couldn't get past the first 20 minutes either time as I found it boring. Now that I'm older I wanted to give it another shot.

Tron has great special effects. Sure its a bit dated but the look still holds up pretty well for a 30 year old movie. The style is still pretty unique with neon and desaturated colors. The visuals are stunning despite the slow pacing so its similar to Star Trek: The Motion Picture in that respect. Syd Mead helped design both movies as well as others such as Blade Runner which came out the same year as Tron.

The scenes before Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) goes into the computer are pretty boring with a bit too much exposition so I can see why I didn't get further into it when I was in high school. Of the early scenes I did like the match cut from the neon world of the computer to the lights on a helicopter. There is a similar shot near the end in which the real world city looks like the game world.

When it comes to the acting we have fun performances by David Warner (who plays all three villains: the human Dillinger, the program Sark and the Master Control Program), Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Boxleitner. Like Vincent Price, David Warner is one of those actors who was in a lot of films and even though many of them were bad, always took his roles seriously and made the movies watchable. Tron also features character actors Barnard Hughes (The Lost Boys) and Dan Shor (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure).

I was surprised that Tron had some religious undertones such as the programs fighting each other over their the belief of the users that created them. This leads to the dual roles for most of the actors as they programs appear as the real people who created them or work at the company. I thought this was clever and made it feel like a high-tech version of The Wizard of Oz in this way.

The story is predictable as we have rebels who try to stop bad guys who wants to take over the world. There is a new spin on it with the computer stuff but its still a typical man vs. machine story. A love story is added late and it feels forced in there. The music isn't very good as none of it is memorable or fits particularly well.

The film was disqualified from receiving an Academy Award nomination for special effects, because the Academy felt at the time that using computers was "cheating". Tron was nominated for costume design and sound but this is still a huge snub, especially these days with movies like Avatar taking home the visual effects awards. Tron and others movies such as The Last Starfighter were pioneers when it came to early CGI and films like Avatar wouldn't exist without them.

I liked Tron and I'm glad that I gave it another shot now that I am older. But when it comes to early 1980s movies about computers I still prefer WarGames!

I must say I am surprised Tron got a sequel 28 years later. I guess this is due to the movie's cult following as Tron was only mildly successful during its initial release. But even forgetting the passage of time the original pretty much wraps everything up in the end. Well, it's time to watch Tron: Legacy and see how they handled it!

Tron: Legacy
Tron: Legacy was made 28 years after the original and the story also takes place the same amount of time later. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprise their roles (Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley respectively) from the first movie which is pretty cool.

The CGI used to make Bridges look younger was quite good. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and X-Men: The Last Stand both used similar techniques.

The score by Daft Punk fits better than the music for first movie did, but I was still expecting better from these guys. Like the original, we have great visual effects and solid acting by Jeff Bridges. For some reason Bridges is kinda like a Jedi this time. And I don't just means that he is more wise but even in the way he dresses and uses his powers. In a way he's a cyber-punk version of The Dude!

Our main character this time is Sam Flynn, the son of Bridges' character. Sam is played by Garrett Hedlund and while he's nothing special he isn't terrible. He's way better than Shia Labeouf in those Transformers movies!
I would have liked to have seen more of Tron the character. I mean these movies are named for him after all! I am guessing this is because Jeff Bridges is simply a bigger name than Bruce Boxleitner and I guess I should be glad he is here at all.

While the computer world looks great I miss the faces being in black and white. I guess that the faces were only in B&W in the original due to the limitations of the special effects at the time but it did create a striking and unique style.

There was one thing that took me out of the movie: the David Bowie guy pictured above. Michael Sheen plays a minor but important character who looks and act like 70s David Bowie. I don't understand this at all and even though I found his character funny it was still pretty distracting and out of left field.

What happened to the female character and program (Lora/Yori played by Cindy Morgan) from the first movie? She is never even mentioned which is kinda odd. To be fair she was somewhat superfluous in the original film. Still, they could've just said she married Alan Bradley or something if they couldn't get her for a cameo. Maybe they are saving her (and perhaps David Warner) for the sequel?! Just don't wait 28 more years this time!

Like the original Tron there are still some slow pacing and story issues. The villains in both movies want to take over the world! Why? Because they're bad guys! But to be fair it was interesting to use Clu (Kevin Flynn's alias/alter ego from the first movie) as the villain this time around.

Tron: Legacy differs from its predecessor in that there are action scenes before Sam Flynn entered the computer world. I guess this was done to show Sam was ready to these stunts later but it would've been a better contrast if we only got the action in the computer/game world. I wonder this is simply the result of the post-Matrix/Inception world we live in.

Although Tron:Legacy updates the material for a new generation I have some of the same complaints as I did the first (slow pacing and generic good vs. bad story). I liked it but a sequel was unnecessary even though it does follow up on characters and events from first movie. While I liked both Tron movies about the same (I prefer original) I don't think that for most people liking one means you will like the other as they both feel like products of their respective times. Considering they waited 28 years, it was amazing they actually made a pretty good sequel.

I don't know if there will be a Tron 3 but since the movie was a box office hit making over $400 million worldwide it wouldn't surprise me. Dillinger's son has a small role in this movie and is played by Cillian Murphy (Sunshine, Batman Begins, Inception) so if there is another one I think he will play a bigger role.

Wayne's World and Wayne's World 2

I had seen both these movies a long time ago but they had jumbled together in my head so I had re-watched them both in December. I am going to keep these short since I have seen them before.

Wayne's World
When I re-watch a movie I haven't seen in a long time I always wonder how it will hold up. Sometimes it is better or worse than I remember. In this case Wayne's World was just as fun as I remember!
Wayne's World is right up there with The Blues Brothers as the two best movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches. Although Mike Myers successfully made the jump from SNL regular to movie star (despite recent failures like The Love Guru) Dana Carvey was never able to make the transition. Anybody remember The Master of Disguise?!
The scene in Wayne's World making fun of product placement is brilliant, hilarious, and just as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.
Ed O'Neill, Al Bundy on the TV Show Married with Children, has a small role in both movies as a restaurant manager. We also have a great cameo near the end by Robert Patrick!
One of the things I love about this movie is how it breaks and demolishing the fourth wall. The ending "scenes" are great. Oh and everybody knows the famous Bohemian Rhapsody scene!

Wayne's World 2
Although this movie is not quite as good as the original its still pretty damn funny. The scene where Wayne fights Cassandra's father (played by James Hong) is a riot! Wayne's World 2 is not as focused as first movie which is probably its biggest flaw. Wayne has a dream in which Jim Morrison tells him to hold a big rock concert in Illinois, parodying Field of Dreams. Christopher Walken plays a record producer trying to steal away Wayne's girlfriend. These two plots are a bit disjointed but it works here as the movie never takes itself too seriously and Walken does a good job as a comedic villain.
There is a great cameo near the end by a famous actor but I won't give it away in case you haven't seen the movie.
Although Wayne's World 2 was a moderate success it wasn't a huge hit at the box office like the first movie. But if you love the first Wayne's World do yourself a favor and watch the sequel as I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. And don't just take it from me, Roger Ebert gave both movies 3/4 stars!

Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Although I like John Hughes (he wrote the screenplays for both these movies while Chris Columbus directed them) I had avoided this series for a very long time. While these were meant to be family movies to appeal to children, even as a kid I thought they looked stupid. I these watched these movies around Christmas simply because they were Christmas movies I hadn't seen before as well as being huge box office hits that are still referenced in pop culture.

Home Alone (1990)
Coming into this movie I thought it would be an hour and a half of Malculay Culkin yelling while violently attacking intruders in insanely elaborate ways. While these things do happen, it's not anywhere near what I was expecting. Most of the movie is about Kevin being on his own, home alone, and not fighting the robbers. There are some scenes setting up the "Wet Bandits" Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv but we only have a few short scenes of them with Kevin until the ending. And when Kevin sets his traps they weren't as violent as I had expected and therefore could actually be funny. For example, Kevin putting the pet tarantula on Marv was hilarious and features one of my favorite screams in all of cinema.
This movie does have a heart thanks to the scenes between Kevin and his older neighbor. Kevin is initially afraid of this old man who lives alone and is rumored to be a serial killer. The scenes where they interact are quite touching with a nice payoff at the end. I just wish the movie could have focused more on this part. The score by John Williams is well done as usual and fits the movie well.
I liked the scenes where Kevin played parts of the fictional movie Angels with Filthy Souls (which must be a parody of the 1938 James Cagney movie Angels with Dirty Faces) to mess with them. Despite the scene being unrealistic it was still funny and creative. Kevin would've had a blast with internet soundboards but I don't want to give them any ideas for Home Alone 5!
John Candy has a fun cameo as a band member giving Kevin's mother a ride to her house so she can check on Kevin. It was pretty funny how she arrives home at the same time as the rest of the family due to crazy Christmas travel delays despite leaving before them.
I'm not one to harp on a movie being unrealistic, but the movies goes out of its way to try to make this story seem plausible. The whole set-up for it is so complicated that its silly, which I guess is the point but if that's the case why not take the ball and run with it and have the family not even realize they forgot Kevin at all? You could say that would make them seem like bad parents but they already accomplished that.
Although I expected to not like it, I was pleasantly surprised. That said, I don't think I liked it quite as much as the general public. 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Let's get this out of the way: Home Alone 2 is a cheap cash-in made to capitalize on the huge financial success of the first film which was the top grossing movie of 1990 ($286 million in the US alone) as well as the stardom of Macaulay Culkin. Plot-wise a sequel for Home Alone makes as much sense as a sequel to Donnie Darko. Oh wait, that movie got a sequel too... Anyway, Culkin was huge and this was just another attempt to make money off him (gotta sell those Tiger Electronics Talkboys!) before he hit puberty. I even remember he had an animated Saturday morning kids show called Wish Kid! But hey, at least they brought all of the main cast back for the sequel.
If you thought the premise of the first Home Alone was silly it's even more ridiculous this time around. I won't get into the details but yes, Kevin gets away from the watchful eye of his large family yet again thanks to a crazy set of circumstances that for some reason still try to keep a sense of realism. Oh, and the same robbers from the first movie not only managed to escape from jail in Illinois to come to New York at the same time as Kevin, but actually bump into him several times in a city of eight million people!
There are several re-hashes from the first movie. My favorite is that instead of watching Angels with Filthy Souls, this time Kevin watches the sequel, Angels with Even Filthier Souls! The old man from the first movie is essentially replaced with an old homeless lady for Kevin to befriend. They really didn't try to change the formula except for being set in New York instead of his house in Chicago.
Despite all these issues, I couldn't really hate the movie. I don't like it and its clearly inferior to the original but there is some fun to be had here. All the scenes in the hotel were actually pretty funny. Tim Curry steals the show as a hotel clerk. Curry is great as usual and its too bad he couldn't have been the main villain.

We also have an early 90s SNL era Rob Schneider who is better than you would expect, especially given his recent movies. The buddy scenes between Harry and Marv are actually better than those in the original as the two are funnier than before. Daniel Stern (Marv) is a underrated comedic talent as he also stood out in another kid's movie, Rookie of the Year, as a crazy pitching coach.
The last part of the movie with Kevin defending himself in his Uncle's house is shockingly violent. Not to mention the fact that the Wet Bandits actually try to kill Kevin before all this. In the first movie I only remember a couple of traps that could be seriously dangerous but pretty much everything Kevin does this time would kill the two burglars. Throwing bricks at people heads from a tall building just isn't funny to me. I don't know why the traps are more sadistic this time around, I guess because they were going for the live action cartoon thing. For example, there is a scene of Marv getting electrocuted and we see his skeleton which is something right out of Looney Tunes. But it doesn't really work here when we also have a heavy dose of seriousness and realism with the big toy shop donating its money to sick children and a homeless lady alone on Christmas.
Hey, at least its still better than Macaulay Culkin's Richie Rich movie...

I'm not going to bother with the sequels (Home Alone 3 and 4) as I didn't exactly love these two, the sequels don't seem to have much (if anything) to do with these, and are both said to suck. And yes, Home Alone 5 is happening... I just wish it would be like this!

My next three posts will be about movies with just one sequel each.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Schedule Update

Well my loyal readers, you may have noticed that today is St. Patrick's Day and I am just now making my first post in the month of March. On top of this I only made two posts in February. The reason for this is that I got swamped with both school work and my job. To make matters worse, I had gotten behind over my winter break and still never caught up from it. The good news is that I have slowly but surely been watching movies when I have the time. My classes are just about over so in the next few days I will be returning to posting over my spring break. The bad news is that I still have movies I saw in December to discuss!  I am sure you all have been waiting with bated breath to read my insights on the cinematic genius that is Home Alone 2: Lost in New York... which I will get to as soon as I finish my only remaining final project.

So here's the deal: Over the next couple of weeks I am going to try to get caught up on all the movies I have seen since December. I am going to aim for daily posts, or at least posts every other day. My goal is to get back on my regular schedule of Tales from the Archives posts on Thursdays and weekly wrap-ups on Sundays by the time my classes start up again. Depending on my class/work schedule I may change those days but still plan on having two posts each week once I finally get all caught up. I'll make a short announcement regarding that in early April.

And to give a long term schedule up-date, my Tales from the Archives posts won't last forever. The reason for this is simply because the schedules in the "Movie Church" calendars stopped about half-way through 1929. I left off with mid-November of 1928 so don't worry, there is still plenty of material to get through. But once I finish my Tales from the Archives posts I'll have shared on this blog all the movie related materials I discovered while helping out at that archives last summer. When this happens, which won't be for awhile, Thursdays will go back to being my day for posts on any topic relating to film. In the past I discussed everything from remakes I want to see to the reconstruction of the lost film, London After Midnight. To give you a taste of what is to come, some ideas I have for future topics are football players who became actors, biopics I want to see, great American movies that were received no Oscar nominations, film locations I have visited, and much more! If anybody has ideas for topics they would like to see me tackle, please leave a comment.
Hopefully my next post will be very soon!