Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith. Summit Entertainment 2005.

Before watching the movie:

I was always a little intrigued by this movie, so I’m not sure why I never got around to it. Maybe it was because I was only a little intrigued. A married couple get turned against each other by the realization that they’re assassins for rival organizations, not a hundred percent my thing. Spy comedies are fun, but I’m not sure how much this is spy or how much it’s comedy. The actors don’t especially grab me either. I never had strong feelings either way about Pitt or Jolie, and I’ve got no idea who else is in it. I guess the most lasting cultural impact of this movie wasn’t the movie itself but the debut of Pitt and Jolie’s real-world tabloid relationship, and I could not care in the slightest about celebrity relationships.

It sure looks like an expensive house they end up shooting to pieces though. That’s something nice to look at.

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The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada. Dune Entertainment 2006.

Before watching the movie:

I think the main reason I was never especially drawn to this movie was because I’m not that into fashion, but then movies can be themed around anything without requiring intimate knowledge of them. And maybe it was also something that didn’t appeal to me because it’s a women-oriented movie and I wasn’t as interested in those in 2006.

I do vaguely recall it being among the movies that I first got a real glimpse of what’s interesting about it at the Academy Awards that year, but like most other movies that I never really considered until the Oscars showed me more than any trailer did, I never really followed up.

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Doom

Doom. Universal Pictures 2005.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not versed on the lore of Doom, but I think it’s pretty simple. There’s some kind of complex infested by demons, and one guy with a lot of guns takes them out. This movie is about a team fighting aliens. So already not the most faithful.

Later games probably built up the story, but I’m pretty sure it’s always essentially a lone guy fighting demons. But lone guys are hard to write movies for. I’m sure the change to aliens was something like embarrassment, but I completely get making it a team, even if it was probably not the best possible decision.

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Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Relativity Media 2009

(Attempting to restore regularly scheduled programming, which is more than I can say for the plumbing here.)

Before watching the movie:

So I guess the joke is Kevin James is a fat, self-important security guard? And probably most of the comedy is going to come from Blart being fat or overstepping his station? I never expected this to be a great movie, or all that interesting. But it’s available, and it’s probably got some actually funny parts.

I just don’t know how they can make a feature length movie out of that concept.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Snow Day

I saw this movie in a theater, but it wasn’t one I chose. A friend had a movie party for his birthday, and I don’t think I knew what we were going to see until we got to the theater. It seems like the kind of movie that was selected more based on what was playing on the date they wanted to have a party than because it was anyone’s first choice, but I remember it was fun in a very late 90s/early 00s Nickelodeon way. I must have recognized Chevy Chase at the time but I completely do not remember him. Actually, the main thing I remember about this day aside from some shots of kids and adults in snow is that it was the first time I heard of Superman ice cream.

Snow Day. Nickelodeon Movies 2000.

In a small neighborhood in upstate New York, an unseasonably warm winter suddenly gets a massive snowfall, and to the delight of all the kids in town, a snow day is declared. Hal and Natalie Brandston’s father Tom Brandston, the third-rated meteorologist in a three-station town, is hoping that having been the first to predict and report on the storm will be his ticket to pulling ratings over showboat weatherman Chad Symmonz and escaping the demeaning costume stunts his producer keeps forcing on him. Natalie’s friends Wayne and Chet make it their mission to stymie the Snowplowman, and maybe for once get a second snow day in a row. Hal spends all day trying to get the attention of Claire, the most popular girl in school, seeing it as destiny that he found her bracelet on the day that Claire broke up with her bully boyfriend Chuck, and drags his friend Lane along in his stunts even as she tries to get him to see how delusional he is.

In rewatching this movie, I didn’t come up with any concrete memories of how I felt at the time, but all the same, the sinking realization that the younger kids’ vendetta with the Snowplowman was relegated to the B-plot behind the high school boy’s quest for unrequited love that doesn’t at all need a snow day to take place on felt very, very familiar. In 2000, I was about the age of the younger kids in the movie, and while I never had the magical adventures this movie invokes of snow days with rose-tinted screenwriter glasses (as an indoorsy kid who lived on unwalkable roads nowhere near any friends, snow days were spent in our house probably watching TV under a blanket and meant relaxation), I think I was very disappointed that the whole concept of “kids having a snow day” got sidelined for a romance plot. They say kids are most interested in the next step up as a preview of what they can expect, but in this case, why would you have a movie called “snow day” and not center actual snow day adventures? It’s hard to push past that fault plus how tired the “guy can’t see the girl right next to him because he’s only got eyes for the unobtainable girl” plot is and get too objective on whether Hal is as lacking in relatability as it seems.

While the movie makes a point of saying how close Hal and Natalie usually are, and how they would usually be playing together on a snow day but he ditched her to go chase his dream girl, I really wish we’d gotten to see that somehow, so it means more to us to see them separate. When they’re together they speak warmly to each other, aside from Natalie being kind of resentful of how obsessed Hal has gotten, but the most significant interaction they have is Hal telling Natalie not to play with his collection of action figures that he wants to keep in pristine condition so he can sell them as a set. Oddly, Natalie acts like they’ve previously played with them before since she identifies him with a specific member of the group of figures.

Natalie’s friends are another missed opportunity. Wayne is marked by being the fat, wimpy kid who’s good for getting damseled and letting the filmmakers substitute farts for jokes, while Chet is… also there. Apparently Wayne and Chet made a snow cave that they were going to hang out with Natalie and Hal in that they brought a video game console out to, but it’s only used in one scene and destroyed by the Snowplowman to make him an extra-personal villain. The snow cave is the kind of thing one would expect to make up the main focus of the movie.

I think I need to come to the conclusion that the best part of this movie, at least as an adult, is Chevy Chase’s subplot, because it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be/ought to be. I think he won the crowd a bit too easily in the end, but this is a movie for middle schoolers and there isn’t really time for something more realistic.

While this is fun, especially for kids, it’s definitely an unbalanced script and isn’t primarily interested in what it claims to be interested in. It’s really hard to put aside all the small ways it disappoints and enjoy it for what it is when it isn’t even concerned with being what it says it is. There are some good seeds of movies in here, but the execution was almost entirely lacking.

Troy

Troy. Warner Bros. Pictures 2004.

Before watching the movie:

What is this movie? Pointing a money canon at the screen. Probably billions of dollars to tell one of the oldest stories we have written down. Big battles, bigger stars, almost three hours of runtime for them to compete for like cinematic gladiators. Pretty and exciting and violent and maybe it even resembles the source material, but at least it’s Epic. That’s the impression I’ve always had of this movie as a former Latin student.

After watching the movie:

The city-states of the Aegean are at constant war, and Agamemnon of Mycenae intends to build an empire by conquering them, despite owing every battle to Achilles and his leadership of the Myrmidons. Meanwhile, as Trojan crown prince Hector has just finished negotiating a peace with Menelaus of Sparta, Hector’s brother Paris, infamous ladies’ man, took up an affair with Menelaus’s wife Helen. When Hector and his Trojans set sail for home, Helen leaves with them to stay with Paris. Seething from the insult, Menelaus goes to his brother Agamemnon to ask him to bring all the Greek armies together to take Helen back from Troy so he can kill her himself, which Agamemnon readily agrees to as the perfect excuse to add Troy to his collection of subjugated kingdoms. As the Greeks lay siege to Troy, Hector tries to find the diplomatic solutions that lead to the least harm done to his country and his people, but still accepts that Helen is a Trojan princess now. Meanwhile Hector’s father King Priam insists that everything is in the will of the gods and nothing can be done to change whatever fate is in store for them. While most of the Greeks loyally fight for Agamemnon, Achilles fights more for his own personal glory, and loathes being in service to a king that hides behind his troops.

I feel like 2004 is really late for a movie about Ancient Greece that’s been cast from a Who’s Who in British Acting with some pretty Americans thrown in for domestic appeal. While it was still too early for anyone to have considered it, I’d be much more interested in an all-Mediterranean production where people speak with actual Greek accents instead of pretending Ancient Greece was a Royal Shakespeare Company show. There’s at least one scene that takes place in a stone ruin, and while I guess that those were not unheard of in those times, it seems more like it was included because “Ancient Greece means broken columns scattered around the hillside, right?”

While this movie credits that it is “based on The Illiad“, Troy is sympathetic and they include an Aeneas cameo, so it feels more heavily influenced by the Aneid. The Illiad was written by Greeks to illustrate Greek glory, while the Aneid was written by a Roman to concoct a Trojan pedigree for Rome and therefore Troy was the nobler kingdom and Greece only won because they cheated. Greece is clearly the aggressor in the wrong here, and while Paris is also in the wrong, the rest of Troy is just caught cleaning up his mistakes. Paris isn’t even all that wrong because the first thing we learn about Menelaus is he ignores his wife to play with prettier, younger women right in front of her.

The main exception to the Greeks being the villains is the bad boy antihero Achilles, who only wants his own personal glory while chafing under his kingdom’s obligation to serve at the call of Menelaus. And yet despite his personal motivations he’s also shown to be one of the most honorable Greeks through his protection of Briseis, a captured priestess who happens to be Hector’s cousin. From the quick research I did, it sounds like they cleaned up the relationship a bit to make Achilles more noble, but I was surprised she was in the original material at all since the main thing I knew about Achilles’ personal relationships going in is that a lot of people enthusiastically read Patroclus as Achilles’ one true love and for all I knew, Briseis was created to give him a safe heterosexual love interest while playing Patroclus as his surrogate son.

While the last people who deserve a happy ending are the final couple, there’s a strong sense that the best ending isn’t to live happily ever after, but to get a prominent death. All the people we care most about get a classically tragic and noble death. All the people we like least get an exciting death at a hero’s hand. Paris and Helen just survive by hiding in the city until they escape while everyone else goes out and dies for them, and I guess they have to spend the rest of their lives with that knowledge.

There’s a ton of story in the fight sequences and for once I can actually follow what’s happening really well, and I can’t just tune out until the music dies down and I look up to see what the outcome of all the punching is. This is somewhat rare for modern action movies, and the prevailing theory is that a generation of cinematographers grew up on pan and scanned video making it impossible to read the fight scenes and decided that shaking the camera and cutting too quickly to get any useful information is how to make things exciting. But I think more than that, in this case the Illiad details a lot of events that happened in battle, so they actually had story beats to include in the sequence instead of just scripting “a fight scene happens and it’s the choreographer’s job to fill the next five minutes”.

This is one of the most engaging action movies I’ve watched in a while, especially considering the runtime and how much of it is action sequences. This is a throwback to the gigantic productions of the classics from the golden age of cinema, and while I’m pretty tired of cinematic epics casting white people with British accents and togas as Greeks and Romans (or proto-Romans here), they sure do make it almost worth the 2 hours, 40+ minutes.

Mr. Deeds

Mr. Deeds.
Happy Madison Productions 2002.

Before watching the movie:

I have the impression that this might be the last “good” Adam Sandler movie before he got lost making movies nobody wanted. I also felt like the title was a little disconnected from the kind of movies Sandler makes, and the character’s name being “Longfellow Deeds” really seemed removed from anything from the time. So I’m not surprised to learn that this is a remake of a movie from the 30s.

The comedy probably comes from putting the “regular guy” in the bizarre world of the mega rich, and especially because it’s a modernization of a much older story, I’m not sure there will be room for the kind of humor that Sandler’s worst movies over-rely on.

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The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion.
Walt Disney Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this was greenlit on the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. That there were no sequels or further “movies based on Disneyland attractions” projects (until Tomorrowland much much later) to my knowledge suggests it did not do as well as they hoped.

I didn’t even realize that Wallace Shawn is in this. I just knew there’s Eddie Murphy, and a house full of ghosts. Presumably there are some important ghosts.

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Funny Money

Funny Money. Thinkfactory Media 2006.

Before watching the movie:

I had an impression that Chevy Chase completely disappeared from whenever he left the Vacation movies in the 90s until the late 00s, when he suddenly resurfaced in Zoom, a Tim Allen vehicle about a retired superhero, and on Community. Apparently what he was actually doing at the time was starring in German/Romanian adaptations of British plays. An American company was also involved, but I sure don’t recall any significant American release.

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Delta Farce

Delta Farce. Lionsgate 2007.

Before watching the movie:

I recall being disinterested in this movie when it came out, and not really seeing anything to change my mind. I’ve since had my fill of the Blue Collar Comedy guys in general, and I seem to recall seeing this have a poor reputation.

So why am I watching it now? I’ve come around to morbid curiosity. Tropic Thunder is probably a better movie, but most people agree on that. Now I want to see how badly Delta Force missed the mark.

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