After writing the additional reviews for our Netflix Follies episode shownotes, I realized I forgot to review my favourite film from the bunch, Lock Out. And, of course, we’ve watched a few more shows since. So here’s a few more reviews— a ♠ indicates a partial viewing of the film.
Lock Out: This film excels were The Expendables fails. Sly Stallone seemed to think people fondly remember ’80s action flicks because of a lot of overblown brawn and even more overblown explosions. Yeah, sure, that’s part of it. But in Lock Out we see Guy Pierce (and the writers) nail what Sly forgot (or never really understood): ’80s action heroes were quick-witted, wise-cracking, every-man smart-asses as well as buff superhuman brutes. Pierce’s character Snow is basically Bogart‘s Sam Spade mixed with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (minus the claws). You almost wonder if they had Pierce bulk-up just because Jackman turned down the part. Anyway, the film is basically just Escape From New York in orbit with a bit of a noir mystery à la Total Recall tossed in. For what it is, Lockout really works. Thanks pretty much entirely to Pierce’s performance (as well as the not-terrible writing).
♠ Legion: I watched this Armageddon flick up until just past the scene where the old lady starts swearing and crab-walks on the ceiling. That’s the scene that everyone knows because it was highlighted in the trailer and has been all over the Internet. It’s a pretty good scene! Unfortunately, it’s the prelude to a small-scale, single set “barricade” movie like Maximum Overdrive, The Myst or Tremors and not an epic war between Heaven and Hell. A classic B-movie set-up, barricade flicks work when the cast of disparate character archetypes establish their weaknesses, needs, fears and desires and then we watch these play out against each other in dramatic fashion. In Legion their isn’t really much variety of personality among the characters barricaded in a run-down truck stop, just variations on the theme of douchebag. They also don’t seem to have any goals except leaving the truck stop—which should really be assumed as being the base-level goal of all the characters.
Worse, they immediately accept that they’re in this insane End of Days situation with zero compunction and without being presented with any real evidence. Oh, this old lady went bonkers and started crawling on the ceiling… Must be Armageddon! Obviously something is going on, but they unanimously make this leap seemingly out of nowhere. Once the “Michael” character showed up with a million guns and no one batted an eye, I returned to the “browse” menu before I ever found out why Dennis Quaid agreed to be in this turkey.
Before you accuse me of expecting too much from a film like this, the barricade sub-genre is actually one of my favourites in action and horror films, and I don’t require them to be “good” movies—just not aggressively moronic.
Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I don’t know if I used to be more forgiving of the Mission:Impossible movies or if this one is just a little lackluster. For a while there the Bourne films were doing realistic-Bond better than Bond and M:I were doing ridiculous, over-the-top-Bond better than Bond. Ghost Protocol is either not quite over-the-top enough, or it’s just exactly the same over-the-top we’ve seen in the previous three impossible missions. Kudos to them for not shark-jumping in an attempt to one-up themselves—but maybe they should have. Although it’s probably arguable that they jumped the shark three films ago and there aren’t any sharks big enough to make an impact left in the ocean.
In a thread on Bond I recently lamented how all the big-bads in these spy films now have to be literally trying to blow up the world. They can’t have a goal that’s on iota more restrained. And because all the “reasonable” motives for annihilating the planet have long been used, they do so for increasingly ridiculous reasons. The villain’s motive in Ghost Protocol is relatively sound, but it was also lifted directly from Watchmen. Also a little bit from Moonraker. There’s definitely a fine line between the stakes being eye-rollingly over-the-top and being too small for the audience to care about. My main issue with Skyfall was that the only people in real peril in that film were secret agents. And they’re people who’ve pretty much committed suicide when they signed on. That’s made very clear in the first action sequence where James Bond is shot and assumed dead. I had no real sympathy or investment in the film’s outcome, the stakes of the film were too small and selective. M could have at least owned an actual pet bulldog (instead of a ceramic paperweight) that we could care about.
In Ghost Protcol the stakes aren’t necessarily too big, but they’re somehow not really that interesting. Nor did I feel like any of the M:I team were in danger of being killed. Not that I’d care if Jeremy Renner got killed because I find him impossibly boring to watch. He sucks so much of my interest out of every scene he’s in that even Simon Pegg couldn’t keep me amused most of the time. The fact that Pegg’s style of humour felt like it was being shoe-horned into the film didn’t help. The whole thing felt it couldn’t almost decide if it were an Ocean’s 11 type action-comedy (which it should have been) or a Bourne Identity serious spy-thriller. It’s not until the climax that ol’ Tommyboy Cruise acts crazy and ridiculous and is actually entertaining to watch.
Also, the title needs more colons.
♠ Stakeland: This vampires as zombies flick seemed to be not-terrible. But in the first 15 or so minutes I didn’t find anything to keep me watching either. It’s basically Zombieland told with the serious tone of The Road (it seemed like cannibals come into play at some point later in the film too). If they hadn’t switched-up the zombies with vampires, there might have been a basis for copyright lawsuits from Walking Dead or 28 Days Later, actually. Though I can’t think of specific examples, it just felt really derivative. And though I really liked the rage-virus plague twist on vamps, I didn’t understand why sunlight killed them. Or if the wooden stakes the protagonists used were necessary. Why would a viral infection have symptoms like that? Anyway, I didn’t stick around to find out.
Strange Days: I hadn’t seen this since it came out on VHS. It holds up surprisingly well. One of Jimmy Cameron‘s better scripts gets Kathryn Bigelow‘s signature low-key realistic take on unrealistic or extraordinary situations. The sci-fi noir plot kind of falls apart at the 11th hour (pun intended) when the villain is revealed and their motive turns out to be pointlessly intricate and complicated. I can think of about 100 better solutions to the pickle they were in. But this over-arching plot is kind of secondary to the film’s theme which was really about race-relations in LA and a typical Cameronesque warning about a storm on the horizon—only this one is about base human-nature amplified by technology and not sentient, misanthropic robots. There are actually some eerily prophetic details this 1995 film.
♠ Less Than Zero: Perhaps the quintessential ’80s movie, though not a happy one like Breakfast Club, this is an adaptation of one of the decade’s so-called literary Brat-pack’s books starring members of Hollywood’s Brat-pack. It’s sort of an ’80s version of a Postman Always Rings Twice style film noir, but shot in neon. Film neon, if you will. Anyway, if this were set in 2013, it might be retitled #Richkidsproblems. So, other than the perennial allure of glamour, there isn’t really much reason to watch these privileged kids tailspin. Now that we live in the post-reality show era, it seems rather tame—like an after school special. Seeing Robert Downey, Jr. as a veritable baby is pretty fun. But after the nostalgia-satisfying party scene with the walls of TVs playing rock videos, it was back to the browse menu for me.
♠ Teenwolf: A different type of ’80s nostalgia. I was shocked at how freakin’ low-budget this film was. Since it came out on the heels of Back To The Future, I remembered it being of similar quality. Er, no. Did I really this this was a totally radical movie in 1985? Well, it’s not a bad film. Michael J. Fox is charming in his nerdy but cool but nerdy but cool infinite loop that no one’s really duplicated since. Anyway, it was a charming stroll down a charming memory lane for the charming 20 minutes I put into it.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Speaking of foxes… I knew this stop-motion animation adaptation of the Roald Dahl story was by Wes Anderson but I didn’t expect it to be so capital-W, capital-A, Wes Effin’ Anderson. Which is fine, it just threw me for a loop at first. In some weird way the anthropomorphic animated animals are actually more charming and believable as neurotic Wes Anderson characters than human actors are. Besides always being Xerox copies of characters from his previous films—fading a little with each generation—his characters always just reveal themselves to be douchebags and I stop caring about the story. For some reason a douchebag fox or a douchebag badger entertain me instead of making me want to punch their furry faces. Anyway, an enjoyable enough flick. It could have perhaps benefited from the Dreamworks/Pixar story pacing instead of Anderson’s signature lethargic meander (which actually works better with humans than animals) but, oh well. I’m not unhappy I watched it and sometimes that’s the best we can hope for in life.