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Movies and Stuff
2008-06-16 17:45
by Mark T.R. Donohue

My new idea for the page is that I'll just try and take a second every day to write a few paragraphs about some movie or TV show I've just seen. It didn't take all that long for me to lapse on my every day (or almost) pledge, and I keep watching things... I feel like I'm falling terribly behind. Anyway, let's see if I can catch myself up all in one go here and we'll start fresh with the one-thought-a-day thing tomorrow. Or maybe Wednesday.

Slither I taped this off the cable and watched it early last week. My main interest in seeing the film was its star, Nathan Fillion, whose lead performance in "Firefly" and Serenity proved him to be uniquely suited for smirking, genre-warping sci-fi. Going on two weeks after seeing it, there are still images from Slither popping unbidden into my mind and making me momentarily shudder. That's a good thing for a horror/gore picture. Although it does involve extraterrestrials, Slither is definitely a horror movie, and one of the scarier ones I've seen in a while. Director James Gunn made Tromeo and Juliet, and the combination of Troma's utter lack of taste and medium-budget CGI effects is delicious. Or, well, more revolting, really, which is the point. Michael Rooker gets infected by a meteorite from outer space and turns into an unspeakable tentacle being whose tastes in food and method of reproduction are demonstrated in appalling clinical detail. My favorite thing about the film, besides the room-sized pregnant woman who eats a forest's worth of animals to nurture the thousands of tiny alien mind worms she's carrying, was the way it doesn't cheat. The ending doesn't present a magical reset that made it all not happen, and the death toll is truly staggering. It's weird how many movies are too cowardly to do that, even though it's not real people getting killed. Seeing Gunn's ex-wife Jenna Fischer playing a receptionist -- well, a dispatcher, but same difference -- covered in crusted blood and controlled by the alien presence is an interesting sensation too.

Jumper Really, really dreadful writing and acting in this one, rented at one of those dollar rental kiosks at McDonald's on Saturday. The premise was interesting enough to have made me want to see it, but Hayden Christensen is just brutal. Who keeps putting this guy in movies? Sam Jackson pulses in for his most mailed-in performance to date. I'm unsure he ever even read the script. He probably just showed up, slapped on a white hairpiece (for some reason), and read his lines off cuecards. Getting no more engaged than Sam did in the project is probably a wise idea. There's some really neat action scenes in Jumper. Director Doug Liman, who made the first Bourne Identity, realizes as few other big-time action filmmakers do that audiences can inuitively sense when all that they are seeing is fake. Obviously Jumper, which is about people who can freaking teleport, uses more computer effects than did Bourne. But Liman smashes up enough real cars and sends enough real stuntmen sailing to make things really play, and I wish his talents were more often harnessed to better material. (Liman also helmed Mr. and Mrs. Smith, another movie with fabulous action sequences and an insultingly stupid plot.) Jumper blatantly wants to be the first movie in a series, but its mythology is barely explained and what does come across is stunningly harebrained. Christensen is a jumper, and SJ is a paladin. Paladins fight jumpers. Why? Because they do. How do the paladins fight people who can instantly teleport anywhere? With tasers. Really, really strong tasers. But how do they get the jumpers to stand still so that they can tase them? Still unclear. After the film's concept is introduced and Jackson makes his first appearance big battles between the hero and the paladins take place constantly. He goes to see the Colosseum, five minutes later they're there. How did they know? Did they put a GPS on him or something? In order for the paladins to work the way they're shown in the movie, there would have to be literally millions of them -- a big office in every major population center in the world. Who's paying for that? And for what purpose? Man, this is a stupid movie.

Breach I've written before about my affection for old-fashioned "thrillers" where there's no actual action and seldom do any of the characters speak in a raised voice. Michael Clayton is one of the best movies I've seen in the last few months but the somewhat similar Breach is not on its level. I watched it late last night after having it kicking around on the DVR for a little while. I liked it enough to stay up until about four to watch the end, but it's surely the lesser film. It suffers from a less sharply drawn protagonist, and while Clayton was firmly about its hero and therefore had a really effective arc structure, Breach ends on a decidedly unsettled note. The high-level FBI traitor played by Chris Cooper explains right on screen why he decided to sell out his country, but we still don't feel as if we know. I'm going back and forth internally over whether the deliberately incomplete picture we get of Cooper's Robert Hanssen is good for the film or not. I'm pretty sure it is, but would be easier to say if Ryan Philippe and Caroline Dhavernas, who play the young agent working undercover as Hanssen's clerk and his wife, weren't so bland. Philippe isn't terrible, and he's certainly come a long way since Cruel Intentions. He can act more than Hayden Christensen, I'll give him that much. But in Breach he comes across as too much of That Young Hotshot, an annoying cliché in movies of this sort; a guy with less of an obvious leading-man vibe would have been vastly more interesting. And Dhavernas is useless as The Loving Wife Who Never Thought Her Husband Would Have To Go This Far. What's interesting about Breach is that the parts that work the best, all of the bizarre details about Hanssen's life that don't seem to cohere or make sense, are the ones that are based on the real man. The marriage-crisis junk and Laura Linney's presence as The Tough But Fair Boss are typical screenwriting excrement. Breach is a pretty dull-looking film, with a limited color palette and a sitcom camera style. There are movies that make Washington, D.C. look very beautiful, but this is not one of them.

2008-06-17 08:34:01
1.   Inside Baseball
It's funny, during the past two months I have watched both Michael Clayton and Breach. I thought Breach was ok and thought Michael Clayton was excellent. I thought the final credits in Clayton were fantastic. Plus the commentary on the deleted scene involving his lady friend from the office was very interesting.
2008-06-18 04:23:17
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Perhaps we have some manner of psychic link. I watched a couple of episodes of "NCIS" off the TiVo and I quite liked it. The dialogue is a little stiff but the plotting is nicely unpredictable, at least in the episodes I saw.
2008-06-18 10:00:52
3.   Inside Baseball
For sure. I have found I have enjoyed NCIS more and more as I got a better feel for the characters. It didn't take long. I laugh out loud at many of their exchanges.

Just for fun, some of my favorite movies (in no particular order) are:
The Usual Suspects
Die Hard
The Sixth Sense
LA Confidential
The Manchurian Candidate (original)
Field of Dreams
The Last Samurai
Lost in America
Europa Europa
Resevoir Dogs
Pulp Fiction
The Matrix
Crimson Tide

with my all-time favorite being Shawshank Redemption

I also really enjoyed Frequency starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel although its not at the same level of the others.

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