Miami Vice (2006)

Miami Vice movie poster

 

Miami Vice is decidedly slight on character and depth, which is not surprising considering the source material. It is quite so, however, considering writer/director Michael Mann‘s track record once leaving the iconic 80s tv show behind.

The deep characterization in all his crime dramas ranging from Thief through Collateral elevate them above the ultrastylized and hyperviolent genre films they would have been otherwise. Even the most minor characters in Heat have backstories and substance. Thief and Heat each revolves around a long coffeehouse conversation; how many genre films slow down long enough for the characters to talk to each other? And it also has to be said of Collateral that Mann somehow drew out of the increasingly looney Tom Cruise an actual performance, probably one of his last before he heads further down Michael Jackson lane to crazy town.

But Miami Vice is disappointingly empty, with an engagingly twisty-turny plot and typically brilliant editing and cinematography. But when there is no investment in the characters, who cares when they start shooting each other in the face?

X-Men III: The Last Stand

X-Men 3 The Last Stand movie poster

 

God help me, but I agree with Harry Knowles’ review. Sometimes you need a fanboy to point out what’s wrong with a movie crafted for fanboys. He picked up on the absurdly sensitive Wolverine, the important Phoenix backstory cursorily related in hammy exposition, and the sudden and arbitrary shifts from day to night. But the worst crime of all is that the movie is actually boring; a mere ninety minutes seemingly stretched to what felt like 2-plus hours.

Also bothering me: why on earth was X-Men III: The Last Stand such a massive hit? Not just the question of general quality, but also the fact that it’s set in a densely self-referential world comprehensible only to dorks that read the comics as kids (cough, cough), or at least to moviegoers who happen to remember the first two installments really well. Perhaps the answer is as simple as it being a holiday weekend with no real competition in theaters, but still, it must have been off-putting and mystifying to mere mortals.

It’s tempting to blame the whole mess on jobbing director Brett Ratner, but if Bryan Singer had still been involved, would the script have been any different?

The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal movie poster

 

Oops. I should have let The Dark Crystal live on in my childhood memories as a Good Movie. Seeing the brilliant Mirrormask reminded me how much this movie affected my childhood, but seeing it again as an adult I find it has not aged well. The special effects of course cannot rival contemporary digital epics, but I was surprised to find the storytelling stilted and overly dumbed-down. Recent kids’ movies are pitched at a more sophisticated level, not feeling the need to start with a lonnnnng opening expository narrative and pause every 15 minutes or so to do a plot recap.

Still, you have to admire Jim Henson’s sheer bloodymindedness at spending five years pulling off this difficult-to-make film. And it scores points for just being so weird.

And a quick word about the dvd: cheap menus and a horrendous print. What’s up with that?

The Ice Harvest

The Ice Harvest

 

I think, but I’m not sure, this is supposed to be a comedy. Honestly, The Ice Harvest is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time. It apparently aspires to be a comedy of villainies along the lines of Bad Santa, extending even into the casting of Billy Bob Thornton, but it decidedly lacks the x-factor that can twist violence & mean-spiritedness into satire.

No matter how much I hated it, it nevertheless narrowly misses a one-star rating, which is reserved for TRUE crimes against humanity, like Polar Express.

Eight Below

Eight Below Movie Poster

 

More dogs! Fewer people! In fact, how about no people at all? Then this two-plus hour slog could be transformed into a nice hour of lovely nature photography and cute fluffy pups fighting adversity.

I hope Disney makes it clear this is a PG film not for the really little ones, for there’s a scene in there that scared the bejeezus out of a room full of seasoned adults. But it is often too cute; most notably in the scene where the dogs suddenly begin “talking” to each other. And the lovable canines remain plump and well-groomed despite starving in the tundra for 3 months.

Red Eye

Red Eye movie poster

 

I had heard Red Eye was a refreshingly unpretentious thriller that played on Americans’ changed relationship with air travel in a post 9/11 world. While technically true, it’s actually a very disappointing runaround decidedly lacking in the most routine pleasures that come with thrillers. Where’s the expected third-act twist? Is the twist that there actually isn’t one?

The New World

The New World movie poster

 

Why didn’t I know better? Although I stand apart from nearly all (it seems) critics and fellow cineastes, I hated Badlands, Days of Heaven, and Thin Red Line. And The New World is, of course, more of the same. The problem isn’t necessarily the pacing, although it is indeed punishingly slow. It’s partly the storytelling technique of mumbled interior monologues of inarticulate characters grappling with giant issues beyond their comprehension, in voiceover over admittedly gorgeous nature photography.

Sample sequence from Thin Red Line: shot of stream running over eroded boulder. US Grunt: “Why… are… we… KILLIN’… each udder… in duh jungle…?” Shot of pelican. Repeat.

And this was a screening of The New World DIRECTOR’S CUT, with TWENTY additional minutes! Arrrrrgh.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four movie poster

 

Did they learn nothing from Spider-Man 2, clearly the pinnacle of the superhero genre (and I will fight a Marvel Team-Up with anybody that dares disagree with me)? FF is an aggressively stupid series of one missed opportunity after another. It just narrowly escapes one star by making me laugh a handful of times.

And another thing. Jessica Alba does nothing for me. I see hotter women every 10 seconds just walking down the street here in NYC. She just has an uncommonly small waist! But even wearing glasses couldn’t help her pull off a line like “The space cloud has fundamentally altered our DNA!”

Alexander

Alexander movie poster

 

Ugh. I should have listened to the myriad critics and friends who warned me off this one… it is indeed quite bad. Everything you’ve heard is true: impossibly long, unintelligibly edited (can anyone explain to me Alexander’s supposedly brilliant scheme in the first battle? Running away and coming back will allow greater access to strike the enemy king exactly how?), and schizophrenic with regards to its sexual politics. So Alexander was bisexual, fine. But in this day and age, doing anything to avoid showing an onscreen kiss just calls attention to itself. Two pretty men gazing at each other and saying things like “By Zeus’ beard, you are indeed a great man” is just comical.

And most amusingly: if accents are to be judged, Angelina Jolie’s character hails from Transylvania, and Alexander and his father came to Greece by way of down the pub. In fact, the kid who plays the young Alexander sounds more Irish than Colin Farrel himself!

I rented the director’s cut, which bucks the trend in actually being shorter than the theatrical version (the only other director I know of to do this is Stanley Kubrick, who would often continue to abridge films even during release). At 3 hours, 55 minutes, I am quite glad I didn’t decide to go with the theatrical version.

What was good about it? Angelina Jolie is always a pleasure to watch – an old-school movie star in the sense that her presence and beauty are so overpowering that she might as well be from another planet. I’ve always thought Val Kilmer was a fine actor (especially in the underrated Spartan). And in a suprisingly plain-looking movie for Stone, it’s a great relief when he finally cuts loose in the surreal, literally blood-soaked sequence of Alexander’s near-fatal wounding in India.