#64 - Flattery Will Get You Nowhere...But Don't Stop Trying
1927 - 2007
Hey, kids. Welcome back to America’s longest-running sunrise farm report, the Electric Theatre. This time, we’re kicking things off with an advance review of something coming soon to select theatres, DVD and your arse-kicking high-def format of choice. Pretty fancy, eh? Before you know it, I may even start wearing pants when I write these things.
The A-Picture - Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic has been tweaked so often since its release that fans should be rightly dubious about The Final Cut. The 1992 Director’s Cut was noticeably different and substantially improved the original version but it isn’t often that continued tinkering improves a film, especially when newly created digital effects are involved (not that I’m naming names here, although if I were, that name would be George Lucas). So when I heard that Blade Runner was getting newly spiffified for its upcoming collector’s edition disc debut, I was skeptical. More than skeptical, really. I believe the actual thought that crossed through my head was, “Oh, please. Why can’t people just leave well enough alone?” Fortunately, I was totally wrong. In the very capable hands of producer Charles de Lauzirika, Blade Runner has been ever-so-subtly massaged into something almost flawless. Yes, there are many, many changes here and new visual and sound effects. But every single one of them is done with such care and attention to detail that I would argue you would never notice these alterations if you weren’t already aware of their presence. In fact, I’m not even going to say what any of them are, because then you’ll just start looking for them instead of letting the film wash over you as it should. It’s an astonishing piece of work, one that shows just how well digital technology can be used in the right hands. If you get a chance to see The Final Cut on the big screen, you should. It’s a beautiful restoration and seeing it that way immediately brought me back to how blown away I had been when I saw Blade Runner the first time back in ’82. But even if you can’t, make plans to grab this when it comes out on disc in December. The movie is a masterpiece and worth seeing over and over again. I’m already looking forward to watching it again. (* * * *)
Into The Wild
In 1992, Christopher McCandless graduated from Emory University, gave away his savings, walked away from his parents and sister without a word, and went on a walkabout that would end four months later as Chris starved to death in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Jon Krakauer did a tremendous job telling this complex, sad story in his 1996 book, Into The Wild. Director Sean Penn doesn’t fare quite as well with his film adaptation but comes pretty close. Emile Hirsch stars as McCandless and it’s a terrific performance. So much of what drove this young man is ultimately unknowable but Hirsch captures his intelligence, single-mindedness, easy charm, and what can perhaps only be described as hints of madness. Hirsch makes it easy to give Chris our sympathy, even when his behavior seems callow and selfish. Penn surrounds him with a top-notch supporting cast, including William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as Chris’ parents, Jena Malone as his sister, Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker as a couple of wandering hippies, and Vince Vaughn as a Midwestern farmer with secrets of his own. Best of all, though, is Hal Holbrook as the lonely old man who offers Chris his last shelter before heading north to Alaska. But the movie can’t quite capture the complexity of this story, despite a leisurely running time of almost two-and-a-half hours. This is no knock against Penn’s ability as a director. I’m just not sure film is the best medium for telling a story like this. It certainly looks beautiful but those gorgeous images sometimes overwhelm the drama going on inside Chris’ mind. Even so, Penn’s Into The Wild is well worth seeing, but for a somewhat more profound telling of the story, stick with Krakauer’s book. (* * *)
Peter Berg’s The Kingdom opens with a rat-a-tat lesson on the history of Arab-American relations in Saudi Arabia since around 1930. It’s all delivered with extreme urgency, as if to say, “Pay attention! This is important! There will be a test!” Once the movie gets going, however…turns out, it doesn’t really matter all that much. This is actually a fairly generic action-thriller that could have taken place anywhere American lives are in jeopardy at any time over the past thirty years or so. Jamie Foxx stars as an FBI agent leading a contingent of investigators trying to uncover those responsible for a massive suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia that claimed the lives of a hundred people, mostly American citizens. And there’s about 45 minutes worth of a fairly entertaining action movie buried in here that I probably would have enjoyed a lot more if the filmmakers hadn’t tried to puff their story up with unearned gravitas. In the end, the profound lesson of The Kingdom is that Americans love their kids, Arabs love their kids, and yet here we are, locked in this vicious circle of violence. Tsk tsk. Now I’m no political analyst but even I know that things are a mite bit more complicated than that. The story also seems to take an eternity to get going, although once it finally does it clips along pretty nicely until completely falling apart in the last ten minutes. Chris Cooper is good, as always, and it’s fun to see Jason Bateman here but with all apologies to Alias fans, I just don’t like Jennifer Garner, especially when she’s called upon to register grief or shock, which is about all she has to do in the first half hour. The Kingdom is by turns kind of entertaining, kind of dopey, and almost entirely insufferable in thinking itself smarter than it really is. (* *)
Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Game Plan
When I started Electric Theatre Volume 2 at the beginning of the year, I intended to see every single movie that reached the top of the domestic box office charts, whether I wanted to or not. This week, that honor went to The Game Plan starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. America, what are you doing to me? I mean, come on! You and I both know there isn’t a chance in hell I’m going to see this movie. But a promise is a promise, so I figured I’d review as much of it as I was willing to see. Namely, the trailer. Which means, for the first time ever, you too can see exactly what I’m reviewing as it happens! Let’s watch!
Ai-yi-yi. OK, look. I actually kind of like The Rock or Dwayne Johnson or whatever he wants to be called these days. But I can’t imagine a movie I’d rather see him in less than this. I would rather see him star in a remake of Part 2 Walking Tall. I would rather watch a two-hour compendium of his best eyebrow raises from his WWE days. I would rather see him play an actual rock in Introduction To Geology: The Movie. I mean, seriously…do we ever need to see another movie with an exploding blender? Or hilarious reactions from the dog? Or the football team in tears because the big game was interrupted by ponies at a crucial moment? I don’t think I’m being cynical here. Honestly, I don’t know a single person who wanted to see this thing. How on earth did it get to the top of the chart? I’m absolutely flummoxed. There must be a lot more undiscerning parents with kids they want to get rid of for a couple hours than I thought. (*)