Sunday, June 25, 2017

If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfest (2016)

HBO documentary hosted by 95 year old Carl Reiner, takes a look at people living vibrant lives into their 90's and beyond. Mostly the film is about celebrates such as Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Kirk Douglas, Dick Van Dyke and Betty White, but also deals with less famous folks like a yoga instructor in her 90's, a 100 year old woman who still enters racing competitions and a D-Day veteran who skydives. Inspiring, feel good stuff, I've always found physically active, very elderly people just fascinating. ***

Monterey Pop (1968)

Early concert film about the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. The film has some great footage of the likes of Ottis Redding, Hugh Masekla, Jefferson Airplane, and The Who. One thing I really liked about the film is its periodic crowd shots of legendary artistes watching other legendary artists, like Mama Cass watching Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix listening to Ravi Shankar. I'm not a big concert film guy, but thought this was a great time capsule. ***

Becoming Cary Grant (2016)

Bio-doc on Bristol, England native Archibald Leach, better known as the actor Cary Grant. Film makes use of passages from an unfinished autobiography that actor started, and also deals with the LSD enhanced therapy sessions he undertook in the 1960's, and which he swore changed his life for the better. The film is consequently done in a somewhat trippy editing style. You hear a rather unusual story about Grants mother that I had never heard before, and that by itself makes this well-done documentary worth seeing. ***

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lethal Weapon (1987) Directors Cut, Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) Directors Cut, Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) Directors Cut, Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Finally got around to marathoning that Lethal Weapon DVD 4 pack I bought two years ago, I've never seen any of these movies before.

Lethal Weapon (1987)

The film that launched the Richard Donner helmed action/comedy buddy cop series, as well as a longer association between the director and star Mel Gibson. This would prove to be Gibson's second big franchise after the Mad Max films as well as the most widely known works for co-star Danny Glover. Gibson plays a roughish L.A. cop named Martin Riggs, more then a little unhinged by the death of his wife within the last year, Riggs in partnered up with veteran sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) on a case that turns out to involve a drug smuggling operation run by special forces veteran's of the Vietnam War. The two rub each other wrong at first, but deep friendship develops (with Riggs becoming essentially another member of the Murtaugh family) and the two become a very effective team.

I expected that this series would eventually become a kind of self parody, but it pretty much starts out that way. Riggs casually stops a sniper at a school and busts a bunch of drug pushers at a Christmas tree lot (this movie is set around the holidays, anticipating Die Hard which would come out the next year) all in the same afternoon. The interplay between the devil-may-care Riggs and the more button down Murtaugh give this film and the larger franchise both its heart and its comic base, but this movie and the later movies would all dip into fairly dark territory, with the kidnaping of Murtaugh's daughter, and the subsequent torture of both Glover and Gibson's characters making for a rather stark tonal shift. Still the film works well and proves rather endearing. ***

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

The second Lethal Weapon movie came out two years later and like the original film it also concerns a drug smuggling operation, this one run by elements within the local consulate of the South African government, in the late Apartheid era white South Africans made for easily identifiable movie villains. Riggs and Murtaugh have more of a supporting team in this movie, but they are largely there so many of them can get killed and make things more personal for our hero's. Joe Pesci joins the cast here as Leo Getz, a loudmouth whistleblower and star witness in a federal case who Murtaugh and Riggs are assigned to protect, but who they bring with them on dangerous police business, one of the many ways the two violate a lot of laws and regulations in this movie. We get more backstory on the death of Riggs late wife and Patsy Kenist briefly serves as his love interest. ***

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

It's gun smuggling rather then drugs in this third entry in the series, with the main bad guy a former cop played by Stuart Wilson. Youth gang violence and "cop killer bullets" are the topical elements in this film. Pesci is back as Leo Getz, now a real estate agent trying to sell the Murtaguh's home as Roger prepares for retirement, he ultimately decides against both selling the house and retiring. Rene Russo is brought in as Lorna Cole, another cop and the permanent love interest for Gibson's character. ***

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

The fourth and final film in the franchise very much feels like the benediction for the series that it was intended to be. The smuggling here is human, Chinese nationals, and the plot is probably the series the most complex, involving counterfeiting, criminal rings, and rouge elements of the Chinese government. Jet Li is the most memorable series villain since Gary Busey in the first film. All the series regulars are back, and Chris Rock is added to the cast as an up and coming cop. Roger is do to become a grandfather and Martin a father (with Russo the mother) in this one, and Riggs emotional arc really feels complete with him finally largely healed from his late wife's death. The film ends with an invocation of the series regulars as a loving, but not always functional family, something that feels perhaps over stressed in the contemporary franchise films of two decades later. ***

The Lethal Weapon films work in large part because of that familial vibe among the characters. One of the things I most enjoyed about this series of movies is seeing the Murtaugh children, always played by the same actors, grow up, and how Riggs, and later Getz and Cole become like members of the family. While I didn't enjoy this franchise quite as much as the Die Hard films (number five excepted) they are quite likeable, and I'm certain highly rewatchable.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

Movies centered on female superheroes have been done before, but they've tended to be mediocre at best, like Supergirl or Elektra. Wonder Woman on the other hand is solid, well written, acted and directed, on par with the other generously budgeted superhero flicks of our time. This telling of the Wonder Woman origin story backdates its central events from the second world war to the first, one reason for this is to better set it apart from Captain America, but I think the altered setting genuinely helps the picture, a superhero literally fighting in the trenches is something new. While I enjoyed it, 3/4ths of this movie was pretty much what I had expected it would be, though the ending impressed. In fact if I had to impart to the movie a single message, that message would be something along the lines of 'humanity is complicated'. Gal Gadot does a great job of making the character of Wonder Woman her own, distinct from Lynda Carter's iconic 1970's rendering. The arc of Diana's journey from relative naiveté to a somewhat nuanced understanding of the world works well. I also really appreciated that Chris Pine's Steve Trevor character wasn't a cynical braggart but a legit good guy who really believed in the cause he was fighting for. The feminist message of the film was not overplayed or bludgeoning like some might have feared, but subtlety dealt and rather rightly treated as a given. Though not my favorite, Wonder Woman is probably the most fully realized DC film yet. ***1/2

The Goonies (1985)

Before last week I don't have any memory of ever sitting down and watching this movie all the way through. Which is kind of funny considering that at my boyhood home circa 1986 it seemed like this movie was on a lot, which might be why I never sat down and watched it straight through. My dad really liked The Goonies though, and back then we used to sometimes tape movies off of HBO, and that was one of them. Once we accidently taped something else over my dads copy of The Goonies and for months afterword, whenever he needed some kind of moral trump card to use against me and my brother to get us to do what he told us to, he would simply say "you guys tapped over my Goonies tape" and we would comply. I remember that I took this very seriously at the time, like taping over the tape was a legitimate moral failing on my part and I deserved to be taken to task for it, looking back on it now I see it as pretty funny and a brilliant piece of parenting by my dad. The movie its self is a great family adventure film of the period, which borrows more then a little from the look and feel of Indiana Jones (Steven Spielberg was a producer and wrote the story the movie was based on). The film has its flaws, of logic and otherwise, but isn't meant to stand close scrutiny, its childhood escapism and accordingly its fun. ***1/2

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Conrack (1974)

Before he was an acclaimed novelist a young Pat Conroy taught school for a year on Daufuskie island, a small knot of land off the South Carolina coast. The Citadel educated white man was certainly an oddity teaching an entirely black class in a one room school house. Conroy's name was difficult for his students to pronounce so they called him Conrack. His year teaching there was a profound experience for young Pat, who was doubtless saddened by the conditions on the island and his students shocking level of ignorance about the world beyond it. Conroy was fired after a year because of his unorthodox teaching style, and his refusal to use corporal punishment ruffled a few administrative feathers back on the mainland. Conroy recorded his experiences in his 1972 memoir The Water is Wide, which served as the basis for this movie. Conroy is played in the film by Jon Voight, who does a job in the part, but his hair looks so much like John Denver's that I can't help but wonder what an alternate universe version of this film, one staring that mellow singer, would have been like, I think it would have worked. Paul Winfield and Hume Cronyn have supporting parts, and the cast of kid are endearing. I'm kind of surprised this film isn't better know then it is, its a solid entry in the inspirational teacher sub-genera. ***