The Saint (1997)

Do you like to watch actors acting like they’re acting? If so, you will enjoy Val Kilmer’s antics in The Saint. The protagonist, an efficient mercenary on the cusp of retiring with 50 million dollars, switches accents as easily as he switches names, taking on the identities of various Catholic Saints and producing Russian, Australian, Spanish, German, Afrikaans, and American voices to avoid detection.

The science he’s been hired to steal is “cold fusion”, a process that can produce unlimited low-cost energy. That’s clearly bogus, and the 90s communications technology is laughable (it’s been 20 years!), but the spy plot is still fun. It’s the classic story of the thief with a heart of gold… The hero not only charms an attractive female physicist (played by Elizabeth Shue), he gets the better of an unscrupulous communist demagogue and saves countless Russians from freezing to death in energy-starved Moscow. Hooray for technology!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-saint/id291675377

Broadchurch (Season 2)

I liked Season 1 of Broadchurch better than Season 2 of Broadchurch. Switching between two plots was clever but made the show less unified. It was also darker.

The second season brings in three new lawyer characters as well as two characters from D.I. Hardy’s previous, unresolved case. Two of the three lawyer characters are urban outsiders, and despairingly cynical, pragmatic, and detached in their approach to the law and in their manner of dealing with people generally. The two characters involved in the other case belonged in another town and didn’t know anyone. In contrast, all the characters in the first season, apart from (the big-city journalist and) the tortured soul D.I. Hardy himself, were locals with skin in the game, and that game was the only game in town.

The dual nature of the second season is in fact reflected quite well on the DVD cover, where you can see a photo of the dramatic beach cliffs imposed on a photo of the two main characters in the woods. The DVD cover for the first season just had the two of them standing on the beach itself.

Part of what made the second show darker was just the yuckier nature of the Sandbrook crime, but I think I liked the second season less mostly because it was thematically darker. I think it’s common for sequels to have to be. In the first story, the readers or viewers are introduced to the characters and the world they live in, and the main character starts from a position of relative weakness and overcomes obstacles until finally he or she winds up in a position of relative strength. As an encore, what else can you do but rip that character apart? You often have to destroy that first victory to create a new challenge. The character has to start at square one again, except that it can’t be exactly the same starting point—that would be tedious—so you’ve got to make the starting point a worse one than before. The character then has to scramble, not to succeed on some externally directed quest but to defend his or her very life, outlook, or core principles. The goal is not to triumph but merely to survive. I think that such stories, while they may be ‘deeper’, are harder to write and harder to enjoy. Beginnings are (relatively) easy.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/broadchurch-season-2/id953297364

Next year when Season 3 of Broadchurch airs, we’ll see how they do with endings, which are also pretty tricky.

Broadchurch (Season 1)

In shows like Lie to Me and House, M.D., there is one mystery per episode. There’s only one mystery—well, one murder mystery; lots of minor “mysteries” and secrets—in Season 1 of Broadchurch, which lasts 8 episodes. I suppose I was expecting a police procedural, but this is a drama. There are lots of long, musical shots of sunsets and waves crashing, and the whole thing feels very melancholy, very human. It wasn’t happy, but it was clever and it was satisfying.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/broadchurch-season-1/id674190653

Update: I am given to understand that the series Gracepoint is an American remake, with David Tennant, of the same plot… but different.

Robin Hood (1973)

Disney’s Cinderella has more cat-and-mouse antics in it than us grown-ups tend to remember it having; Disney’s Robin Hood, similarly, seems to have more marching in it than I would have thought possible. It’s a charming story, though, possibly in part because of all that celebratory marching!

I love the despicable babyishness of Prince John, the adorable aspirations of the rabbit kid who wants to be just like Robin Hood, Marion’s demure wistfulness about her childhood sweetheart… and the way the snake somehow has eloquent body language despite not having a body. (Snakes are so awesome!)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/robin-hood/id656527876

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat as well as a few other thoughts on the movie.

This post is part of a series on versions of the Robin Hood legend.

Continue reading Robin Hood (1973)

Robin Hood (2006–2009)

It’s cheesy and historically inaccurate, but this Robin Hood series has its moments.

The scenes that take place outdoors in the forest are more convincing than the ones that use the same indoor and outdoor sets over and over; Sherwood Forest, though, is very much a character in the show and an important presence. Regarding the human characters, I would definitely say that the bad guys were more interesting than the good guys by a mile.

I would recommend the show if you’re looking for some lighthearted entertainment with some interesting characters and can overlook the show’s obvious flaws. Or if you’re just interested in any and all variations of the Robin Hood myth.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/robin-hood-series-1/id275354656

See below for more about the characters and why they’re interesting, even if they do make a lot of Evil Overlord mistakes. (No specific spoilers.)

Continue reading Robin Hood (2006–2009)

Inferno (2016)

In Inferno (2016), Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) and some woman follow a trail of clues that are tied to European religious art and history, as in The Da Vinci Code, only this time the focus is Dante, and Langdon doesn’t know how he got to Italy or why there are people chasing him. The movie doesn’t seem to be popular with viewers or reviewers, but it was plenty entertaining, if you ask me.

What makes the complicated puzzle plot work for me? Partly, it was Langdon’s initial puzzlement about what’s going on, which puts the audience right in the thick of things—we’re not looking over the shoulder of a pompous art expert, we’re looking over the shoulder of a confused victim. We catch glimpses of memories or dreams but, like Langdon, we can’t quite catch hold of them, and whether or not we know where we’re going, we have to keep moving.

Partly it was the amazing Italian settings. I mean, hiring Tom Hanks is expensive, but the filmmakers also apparently rented every major tourist attraction in Florence, and one or two in Istanbul as well, stopping in Venice along the way. Or they just recreated a bunch of famous places in a studio in Budapest, one or the other. (Actually, some of both.)

Partly it was the freakishly believable terrorist, an extremely rich but extremely delusional white guy who gave a bunch of TED talks about how humanity cannot allow the world’s population to double again and who took it upon himself to try to solve the problem by developing a virus that, when released, would cause immense amounts of pain and suffering but also ensure the survival of the race… by cutting the world’s population in half—decimating it, one might even say—like the Black Death did when it made way for the Renaissance.

Partly it was that I particularly liked one of the secondary characters. While I found the villain’s death cult genuinely threatening, I found his pragmatic mercenary quite amusing. (In this much at least, reviewers seem to agree with me.)

Why wasn’t the movie liked?

Maybe it was too cerebral and not actiony enough. Thrillers have to have Bond gadgets in them, not Renaissance paintings.

Maybe, as more than one reviewer says, it’s the related problem that Tom Hanks’ talent is “wasted on the role of Dr Robert Langdon, an academic who is sort of a brainier, duller Indiana Jones.”

Or maybe it’s just that Dan Brown’s novels aren’t very different from each other (or particularly deep), and it hasn’t been long enough since the last installment for people to find his offering very, well, novel.

Anyway, upshot: if you don’t go in expecting the art-historical conspiracy-theory trail-of-clues plot to resemble what spy movie heroes and real-life detectives typically do to prevent catastrophes and solve crimes, respectively, then you may, like me, be entertained. The plot of Inferno is needlessly complicated and fundamentally illogical, but (unlike that of Point Break) it’s still coherent.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/inferno/id463979057

Keep reading for a detailed summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Inferno (2016)

Deadpool (2016)

I knew what to expect since the folks who knew the character from the comic books went out of their way to warn the rest of us that Deadpool would not be NOT a family-friendly Marvel superhero movie.

Although the crude language, the blood and violence, and the explicit sexual messages of the movie did not appeal to me, there were aspects of the movie that did.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/deadpool/id1078111961

See below for more on the movie, including SPOILERS.

Continue reading Deadpool (2016)

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast is one of my four favorite Disney animated films. I love the wistfulness and bookishness of Belle, the over-the-top bluster and brawn of Gaston, and the romance that’s anything but love at first sight. The talking objects, frankly, I could do without, but the ballroom scene with its unbelievably realistic computer-generated architecture and magical blue and gold colors will never cease to be utterly breathtaking.

I don’t remember whether I saw the movie in a theater in 1991, but I know I had the VHS tape because I still do. I also have the soundtrack. I watched the relaunch with the superfluous song scene (“Human Again”) in 2002 in the IMAX Theater at Navy Pier in Chicago with my then boyfriend, now husband. I am looking forward to the 2017 live-action version with Emma Watson; I enjoyed Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), so I assume they won’t mess up this remake either.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/beauty-and-the-beast/id439510925

See below for some things I noticed on this rewatch, including SPOILERS, as well as what I learned from an entire DVD’s worth of Bonus Features.

Continue reading Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Madagascar 3 (2012)

The cover of my DVD of Madagascar 3 features a quote that says, “Easily the best one yet!”

Do not be fooled.

It is funny from time to time, and it must have been spectacular in 3D, but it lacks emotional depth. It made a ton of money, though, unlike Rise of the Guardians, which came out in the same year, and which must have been equally spectacular in 3D, and which personally I liked a lot better.

The premise is that Alex and friends get tired of waiting for the penguins and chimps to come back from Monte Carlo and take them to NYC, so they go to Monte Carlo to look for them. However, an animal control woman who can sniff out animals like a bloodhound and who has always wanted a lion for her collection of stuffed heads starts chasing them. They escape her temporarily, but crash land before they’ve gone far. How can a group of animals move around Europe without attracting notice? By running away with the circus, which becomes an all-animal circus when the penguins and chimps buy out the owner.

The whole thing gives me the impression that some committee decided to make Cirque de Soleil, in Europe, using the Madagascar characters, plus some Europeans with funny accents, and then hastily wrote a complicated, ridiculous plot that included all of the group’s ideas, instead of all of the group’s best ideas.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Not only do kids deserve good stories, kids especially deserve good stories.

Sigh.

At least they got a good light show.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/madagascar-3-europes-most/id909794795

More thoughts, with SPOILERS, below.

Continue reading Madagascar 3 (2012)

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

Okay, so when I chose to see Mechanic: Resurrection at the theater, I didn’t realize it was a sequel. To a remake.

Maybe someday I’ll see The Mechanic (2011) and The Mechanic (1972). I’m not in any huge hurry, though. This movie was clever but a bit bloody for me. Plus, bald-with-stubble is not exactly my preferred kind of action hero.

The premise is that a highly skilled assassin is blackmailed, by means of a rather shallow-seeming relationship with a lovely woman (who herself has been blackmailed, by means of some orphans in Cambodia) into doing some dirty work for a criminal boss guy. He is given three targets spread out around the world and some really really tight time constraints, and told that, as usual, the kills must look like accidents. Much cleverness and death ensues. I liked the resolution of the conflict, though the conclusion felt a bit tacked on.

Given what a male-centric kind of plot it was (it is an action movie, after all), I was impressed with how much the untrained woman tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to resist her kidnappers. She also managed to communicate a helpful clue to her rescuer. Moreover, she didn’t come across as an overly exaggerated Strong Female Character like Jane in the recent Tarzan movie.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/mechanic-resurrection/id1142118992