Tag: 3.5 stars

Movie Review: Big Business (1988)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, originally rented from Scarecrow Video in Seattle.

When I found out that there was an 80’s comedy starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as two sets of twins separated at birth, YOU BET YOUR ASS I made it my mission to see it. Weirdly, it took me a little while to actually get a copy but now here we are, and I have fully taken in the strange, silly thing that is Big Business. Born in the same small, rural hospital on the same day, two sets of identical twins are accidentally separated into two sets of supposedly fraternal twins, and raised in two very different environments. Sadie (Bette Midler) and Rose (Lily Tomlin) Shelton are brought up in a very wealthy family living in New York City, and eventually the ruthless Sadie becomes head of her parents’ company with the flighty, nervous Rose quietly sitting in the background. Meanwhile, Sadie (Midler again) and Rose (Tomlin again) Ratliff grow up in Jupiter Hollow, a poor rural community with an economy reliant on a local factory. When she hears that the factory is going to be shut down, Rose Ratliff heads to New York with hedonistic sister Sadie in tow, aiming to take her arguments straight to the head of the company that owns the factory- none other than Sadie Shelton! After various miscommunications and cases of mistaken identity, the twins are all holed up in the same fancy hotel, barely missing each other and confusing the hell out of everyone around them before they finally figure out they each have doubles.

It should probably be immediately clear to you that this movie is RIDICULOUS. Like, probably one of the silliest movies I’ve ever seen. Which is something I liked about it, though I’ll admit it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It has many awesome elements- rad costumes, funny dialogue, a few interesting subplots, and of course absolutely fantastic lead actresses. It’s also always exciting to have a female-dominated comedy that isn’t overly focused on romance (though that’s an element, too). I’m pretty much equally enamored of Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler, and having two each just made me grin a lot. They both seem to be having fun in their dual roles, with Tomlin alternating between brazen activist and anxious sweetheart, and Midler switching between wide-eyed, wannabe debutante and cold-hearted businesswoman.

There’s a bit of satire thrown in there, aimed at their varied regional and class backgrounds, but the script is more intent on creating these ludicrous farcical scenarios that result in so many mixed messages and confused identities. I mean, you know me, I love a good mistaken identities comedy, and I do enjoy shenanigans in general. I’m not panning the premise at all, but I did feel like the execution wasn’t the best. On paper this movie sounded amazing, while in practice it was cute but nothing spectacular. I’m not even sure why I didn’t love it, maybe the script could have been punchier, the pace could have been more frantic, the jokes more clever, or a combination. I’m definitely glad I finally got to see Big Business, and I appreciate it for so many reasons, just didn’t live up to what I envisioned in my head!

One final thought: I was pretty impressed with the gay side characters, because their sexuality was just a facet of their personalities and not a major plot point, and not played for jokes. They’re bumbling business associates living in fear of Bette Midler, who happen to be a romantic couple! I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to me it’s always worth noting when an 80’s comedy doesn’t resort to stereotyping! (Or really, any movie, from any time.)

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course my first thought was a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie for more twin mix-ups, probably It Takes Two which has some similar class themes. Or, perhaps another silly romp with mistaken identities like The Impostors, which I’m pretty much always in the mood to watch. Lindsay suggested Ruthless People, which I haven’t seen but it’s another Bette Midler comedy and I trust Lindsay so I bet that’d be a great double feature.

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)

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Seen: At the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

So I find myself constantly waffling in my resolve to stop caring about X-Men movies. It. Is So. Hard. So here I am, reeled back in by the promise of badass Japanese ladies and a script that won’t make me want to bash someone’s head in, watching the sequel to the horrific X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Which turns out to be a sequel to the also horrific X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Yet somehow, even with all the bad taste left in my mouth from its predecessors, I found myself basically enjoying The Wolverine. Set some time after the events of X3, with Logan (Hugh Jackman) wandering around the Canadian wilderness, clearly super depressed because he has a beard. He is found by a badass fighter in stripes called Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who whisks him away to Japan so he can meet with a dying comrade from his warring days. But then everything goes to shit and he’s got to beat up a lot of people while also falling in love with his dead friend’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto).

Ok. So Wolverine has never been my favorite X-Man but I do enjoy the character’s mixture of wise-cracks and berserker rages, as well as Hugh Jackman’s constant shirtlessness. This movie adapts the well-known Japan arc to fit the films’ timeline, and a lot of it works well. It’s got a more serious, dramatic tone, with Logan having guilty visions of Jean Grey all the time and just generally brooding. I loved the Japanese setting, mostly because it makes this the only mainstream comic book I can think of that has more people of color than white people, so great job, movie. The action is exciting and a little ludicrous (that battle on top of the train? Whaaaat?), but weirdly kinda takes a backseat for a time so that the story and relationships can develop more. I could see what they were going for, and it’s kind of successful, but it also struggles between being a silly action movie and being a more introspective superhero drama.

One of the main cool things about this movie is that there are several awesome ladies who play major parts in the story. Viper is a sultry mutant scientist who’s pretty on top of things and I dug her as the villain because she seemed pretty misandrist and reminded me of Poison Ivy, but then of course at the end it turns out the real villain is a dude (in a totally foreseeable twist). Mariko is a little damsel in distressy at first, but she’s also an individual with her own life and her own problems, and she propels a lot of the plot forward. The best, THE BEST is obviously Yukio, who is very different from the comic version but still super rad. She’s adorable and deadly and I was in love with her hair style. I liked how they fit her into Wolverine’s lady-sidekick thing, and never made it romantic. But because she was so awesome, I wanted her onscreen all the time, and kind of wish this movie was “The Yukio”. That’s the problem with introducing awesome lady characters that I fall in love with, they’re always doing rad things on the sidelines and I want them to be front and center. Wolverine’s a cool hero and everything but I was just reminded of how starved I am for a great female-driven superhero movie.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I have a hankering to revisit the first two X-films, which I haven’t seen in years despite being a little obsessed with them in middle school and high school.

PS And no I DON’T want to talk about the after-credits sting, my GOD how can they fit all this into the same universe when nothing made any sense in First Class and also shouldn’t Xavier be in a new body or whatever and ugh I HATE THAT I CARE SO MUCH ABOUT X-MEN.

Movie Review: Red 2 (2013)

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Seen: At the AMC/Loew’s at Boston Common.

Following the previous investigation of old-guy former CIA operatives, Red 2 sees the adventures continuing for Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and his best friend Marvin (John Malkovich). The three find themselves at the center of a conspiracy involving a decades-old nuclear device hidden somewhere in Moscow. Multiple agencies want Frank and Marvin dead because of their connection to the device from a failed mission during the Cold War, and they must forge a few unlikely partnerships with allies [like MI6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren)] and enemies [like Russian secret agent Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones)] alike to track down the bomb so it won’t fall into the wrong hands.

I was a big fan of Red, and was surprised but pleased it even got a sequel, but the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lee Byung-hun is what got me excited for Red 2. Lucky for me, the film as a whole is pretty good, too. It’s got some great action sequences- from Bruce Willis beating the shit out of armed CIA grunts using only what he finds in an office file archive, to Lee Byung-hun beating the shit out of Russian cops while chained to a soda machine. The story is cookie-cutter stuff, to be sure, relying on easy-to-spot twists and a fascination with 80’s action movie tropes. But, the script is clever enough and doesn’t take itself too seriously, while the characters all get their moments to shine. I wasn’t really here for a good story, I was here to see famous people over 40 kick some ass.

Admittedly the first half of the movie was sort of uninteresting to me, since I felt the subplots about Bruce Willis fretting over Mary-Louise Parker every second and also her intense jealousy over Catherine Zeta-Jones were BORING and lazy. And can Bruce not be so controlling? Super annoying. But the second half picks up, and both the action and the story become more compelling, and I found myself enjoying myself immensely by the time the credits rolled. Too bad it took a while to get there, though.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, of course the first Red comes to mind and it would be fun to double feature that. But there were also some parallels to Fast Five, for a nice action pairing. Personally when I came out all I wanted to do was see more Lee Byung-hun, especially The Good, The Bad, The Weird where he’s also a super-hot villain.

PS Soooo I need a Lee Byung-hun/Helen Mirren buddy action comedy STAT.

Movie Review: Tom yum goong (The Protector) (2005)

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Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

I don’t remember how I came across it but somehow I saw the quote “You killed my father, and you stole my elephant!” and that pretty much inflamed my desire to see The Protector, another offering from the Prachya Pinkaew/Tony Jaa team. The film follows young fighter Kham (Jaa), who raises elephants for Thai royalty and has been trained in martial arts so he can protect them from predators. But he fails in his duty, and his two prize elephants are stolen and his father is killed all in one day. He travels to Australia to reclaim his animals from the powerful Thai criminals who took them, going up against various skilled fighters and gang assassins to get to their leader. An unorthodox Sydney cop (Petchtai Wongkamlao) helps him out despite corruption in his own office.

So this movie is pretty ridiculous, and shoddily made, and a little weird, but sort of endearing in its own way. A lot of it is Tony Jaa running around Sydney in his cute red ascot yelling about his elephants, which is silly, but then he starts beating the shit out of everyone he sees and I am definitely into that. The fight scenes are awesome, with Jaa barreling his way through large groups of angry grunts, never stopping more than he has to. I loved the range of villains Jaa goes up against, especially the capoeira fighter Lateef Crowder and wushu fighter Jon Foo. Ballet dancer Xing Jing is ferocious as the evil elephant-killer Madame Rose, dressed in fashionable outfits and fighting with a deadly whip all Catwoman-style. Apparently there was a whole subplot about her character being transgender (as the actress actually is) that was cut out of the American version, though I’m not sure why.

The fights are great, but that’s kind of the only really good thing about this movie. The story doesn’t make much sense, the script is cheesy and uneven, and the production isn’t exactly top quality (the dubbed-over English is the biggest distraction). Plus I couldn’t tell if it was taking itself seriously or not. But luckily, a good portion of the overall film is just radical fight sequences, and Tony Jaa alternating between his adorable ascot/jacket combo or bloody shirtlessness. And that’s all ok.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ah I don’t know man, I guess Ong-bak.

Movie Review: Black Samurai (1977)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

After watching Three the Hard Way and hearing about Jim Kelly’s death the next day, I was definitely in the mood for more of his films, and Black Samurai sounded like it would hit the spot. Kelly stars as superspy Robert Sand, whose girlfriend (Essie Lin Chia) (the daughter of an ambassador to Hong Kong) is kidnapped by voodoo practitioners trying to expand their drug trade. Sand is assigned to infiltrate their criminal group so he can save the lady and take down their operation, moving between California and Hong Kong and showing off his rad martial arts moves. But never really doing anything samurai-related so I feel like the title is a bit misleading.

This movie is like a lot of forgettable action b-movies except it has a few things that elevate it for me. One: Jim Kelly. Two: a jet pack. Three: Shirtless Jim Kelly. The story is ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense and honestly I didn’t pay much attention to it. The dialogue is stilted and most of the characters are boring. BUT. The action sequences are rad, featuring Jim Kelly beating the shit out of almost everyone he meets, including several little people stuntmen, yelling his own sound effects and swishing his feet around like a boxer. He really does at one point don a jet pack and fly around, which was great, but probably my favorite part was when he sent man falling to his death by taking off his own shirt. That’s the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

The villains are mostly forgettable, though I did enjoy Marilyn Joi as the sexy henchwoman Synne. I didn’t get the magic “voodoo” stuff, it never really fit into the plot except that at the end a bunch of extras were thrown into generic African masks so they could dance around in some ritual that was never finished. Anyway. This movie is pretty ok but mostly only worth it for Jim Kelly because oh my god I am crushing so hard on him. You could easily skip around and just watch his fight scenes and walk away entertained, and wouldn’t you know it the dvd’s only special feature is the option to select only the fights! Thanks, technology!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I’d go with Enter the Dragon. That movie rules.