Friday, January 29, 2016

Die Hard (1988)

Some movies change with age.  You might view it as a kid and think it’s an action movie only to realize as an adult that it had some deeper meaning.  Movies Like WarGames or Star Wars will look different as a kid than as an adult.  There were aspects of The Shawshank Redemption that I didn’t get as a child.  Even UHF parodied things that I missed the first time simply because I hadn’t seen the movie being referenced.  I had kind of wondered if this was the case with Die Hard.  Eh, not so much.

Primarily, Die Hard is an action movie.  It starts with John McClane, a New York City detective, visiting his wife, Holly, in Los Angeles.  They’re estranged, but hoping to maybe get back together.  Things are going not so well when a group of armed men take Holly and her entire office hostage.  John happens to be in the office, but is unseen by the gunmen, giving him an advantage.

Hans Gruber is the lead gunman.  He takes Holly’s boss, Joseph Takagi, into another room to interrogate him.  You see, Gruber and his goons aren’t terrorists, as one might think.  They’re strictly there for the bearer bonds that Takagi has in his safe.  Gruber has no problem letting the police think he’s a terrorist, though.  When Takagi refuses to cooperate, Gruber kills him.  Gruber then assures his associates that the police will help with Plan B.

Meanwhile, John takes it upon himself to kill Gruber and his henchman one by one.  This isn’t an easy task, considering that John is alone and has no guns.  For that matter, he spends a good part of the movie without shoes, having left them in his wife’s office.  It even takes a few tries to get the police to come out.  (Gruber does want the police to come out, just not too soon.)

Being that it’s an action movie, things don’t end well for Gruber & Co.  Yes, it’s very violent.  Yes, is a lot of blood.  Ask someone about the movie and they will probably remember John McClane walking across broken glass.  If you’re into that sort of stuff, it’s a good movie.  There’s just the right amount of story to tie the abundant violence together.

This is one of those movies that spawned a lot of sequels.  This is interesting in that the movie is based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever.  The first book, called The Detective, was also made into a movie with the same name, starring Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra could have been John McClane, as being offered the part was in his contract, but he turned it down.  (It’s interesting to think of what it would have been like.)

The last time I saw this movie was shortly before the death of Alan Rickman, who played Hans Gruber.  This was his first feature-film role.  (He had previously been in TV series and TV movies.)  It’s hard for me to see him another role without thinking how he’s Hans Gruber.  This isn’t to say that it affects how I view the other movie.  It’s simply a testament to how diverse his roles have been.

Bully (2011)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Someone once said that men had two main theories on women and that both were wrong.  (I want to say Will Rogers, but I’m not certain.)   The same applies for bullies.  As a child, I was told usually one of two things.  One camp held that bullies were looking for someone to push around.  If I stood up, they’d find someone else to push around.  The other camp held that bullies were looking for a reaction.  If I ignored them, they’d get a reaction out of someone else.  Neither one really held true.

Yes, I had problems with bullies as a child, but not so much as the children in Bully did.  The movie follows several children who faced constant bullying.  In one case, a child named Alex was poked, choked, shoved and otherwise harassed on the school bus.  Another girl, Kelby, was ostracized when she came out as a lesbian.  She was even kicked off the basketball team because none of the other players wanted to touch her.  She was even deliberately hit by a minivan.  Two of the children committed suicide because they couldn’t handle it any more.

Here’s the thing.  Not doing anything isn’t solving the problem.  Alex’s mother sees the assistant principal of his school after being shown the footage.  The assistant principal claims that she’s been on his bus and all of the students were perfect little angles, despite what the footage shows and what Alex has said.  The bus driver is shown just driving, not doing anything to stop the children.  (The mother points out that her bus driver would have pulled the bus over.)  Another student is asked why he doesn’t walk away from a kid that torments him.  He does, only to have the tormentor follow him.

Standing up does seem to have limited success.  One student admits that he stood up to some bullies and they backed off.  However, that doesn’t seem to hold true for Kelby.  Her parents offered her the chance to move, but she felt that moving would have handed the town a victory.  She felt that she should stay and try to at least show everyone she wasn’t backing down.  She was eventually pulled out of the school system.  Yes, she does have a few friends that accept her, but most students don’t.

It seems like the biggest problem is that those in a position to do something don’t.  Either they’re ignorant of the problem or they’re unwilling to admit that it is a problem.  The assistant principal at Alex’s school has a bully and the bullied shake hands.  When the bullied kid refuses, the assistant principal tells him that he’s just as bad for not trying to play nice.  The bully is let off the hook because he was so eager to play nice.

The kids don’t always stick up for themselves.  In Alex’s case, he thought that this is just they way kids behave.  It’s also easy to see why the students think that nothing will get done.  In many cases, if anything is done, it may change a very specific behavior, but not get rid of other forms of bullying.

It’s hard to say what to do because each case is different.  There’s no one action that an administrator, child or parent can take that will eliminate bullying every time.  It’s mostly a matter of persistence and knowing that you can have someone to turn to.  Even if it doesn’t stop anything, many of the children either feel that they don’t have friends or don’t really know what it means to have a friend.

I recall hearing about this documentary when it first came out.  It had to be edited to get a lower rating so that children could watch it.  I’d recommend that people watch this documentary as a starting point.  It’s available through Netflix on DVD and streaming, which will make it available to a lot of people.  If you do let your child watch it, I would recommend either watching it with them or watching it before them.  Even if they’re not bullied, you may want to be able to talk about the movie with them. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bruce Almighty (2003)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.
Bruce Nolan is an ordinary guy. That’s the problem, though. Bruce feels that he’s stuck doing the human-interest fluff stories on Channel 7 while rival newscaster Evan Baxter gets all of the hard-hitting, important stories. Bruce gets stories on the city’s biggest cookie while Nolan gets stuff about health hazards. Bruce desperately wants a shot at the big time, but he’s just not cut out for it.

True to comedic films, Bruce has a really bad day. After flipping out on live TV, he’s fired. Then, he tries to protect a homeless guy, but gets beaten up over it. Then, he gets in a fight with his girlfriend, Grace, played by Jennifer Aniston. Plus, the dog keeps urinating on the furniture. To top it off, he gets in an accident that night. Finally, he has it out with God. Why would such a kind and merciful God pick on poor, poor, pitiful Bruce? Why does he have to suffer so much?

That’s when he gets paged. After several attempts, Bruce finally calls the number. He gets a recording. (The recording is actually specific enough to ask if his name is Bruce.) He goes to an address that turns out to be an abandoned building, but he goes in anyway. The outside is old and dingy, but the inside is pure white. There, he finds the janitor mopping. Bruce is directed to Room 7, which happens to be on the seventh floor. (The elevator’s broken, so he has to walk.) Upstairs, he finds the janitor fixing a bulb. Bruce doesn’t like having to walk up the stairs, but he lets it pass. He asks for the boss, which happens to be the janitor. (The janitor is Morgan Freeman; it turns out that God does all of His own work.)

It takes a few minutes for Bruce to accept who he’s dealing with. When he does, God makes a proposal. Since Bruce thinks that God’s not doing a good job, He’ll take a vacation and leave Bruce with all of His powers for a few weeks. (Hence the name of the movie.) There are two rules, though. Bruce can’t claim to be god and he can’t affect free will. (The first rule is more of a warning to avoid that kind of attention; the second is hard and fast.) Bruce accepts and starts by fixing his own problems. For starters, he gets revenge on the gang that beat him up. Then, he gets in good with his girlfriend and eventually embarrasses Evan into quitting.

After a little prodding from God, Bruce starts thinking about others. He hears voices, which turn out to be prayers. Not wanting to go crazy, he sets up a computer to be Prayer Central. Instead of reviewing each prayer, Bruce finds it easier just to say yes to everyone. This leads to problems. Everyone wins the lottery, but each winning ticket is worth $17. Riots ensue and the power grid loses stability. Also, Bruce’s newfound fame leads to other kinds of attention, thus leading him to break up with Grace. Bruce has to figure out how to get her back without affecting free will. In the end, all works out well. I won’t say exactly how, but Bruce learns his lesson.

What I will say is that the message isn’t overt. The movie doesn’t shove proverbs down your throat or try to make you believe. It’s more about Bruce and what he has to learn about himself. Carrey has it toned down a little bit. He plays the role more like The Truman Show than Ace Ventura. He does have a lot of goofy scenes, though.

As I mentioned in this review’s title, Bruce is in the details. Look for details. Some are obvious, as is the case with the Parting of the Soup. Some are subtler. When Channel 7 throws a party for Bruce, notice what’s in the container that Bruce is carrying. Pay special attention to it and what he’s pouring for the people.

Jim Carrey was the perfect actor for the part of Bruce and Morgan Freeman was perfectly cast as God. Morgan Freeman plays the role with all of the seriousness and dignity you’d expect from God whereas Jim Carrey is just this goofball that wants to do things his way.

Carrey also has Jennifer Aniston to play off of. Bruce can’t see past his own career whereas Grace wants a family and a happy life with the man of her dreams. The more Bruce tries to pull her his way, the more she resists.

Then, there’s Evan. Even is all that a serious reporter is supposed to be. Bruce is always the other guy. He’s the one you turn to with a story the city’s biggest cookie. Bruce is exactly where he’s supposed to be. He just doesn’t realize it. All of Bruce’s selfish acts have dire consequences. Even his altruistic ones have dire consequences. Bruce doesn’t realize that there’s a delicate balance to everything.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bowfinger (1999)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of determination to do what you want to do.  Robert K. Bowfinger (played by Steve Martin) wants to produce a movie and he has determination to spare.  What he doesn’t have is a good script, cash, or enough talent to go around.  One day, Bowfinger’s accountant/receptionist, Afrim, comes up with a script for a movie called Chubby Rain.  (The premise is that aliens come down in rain drops, making them bigger than normal.)

Now, Bowfinger has the script, but he still faces all of the other problems.  To add to his troubles, he can only get in with a studio if he gets Kit Ramsey (played by Eddie Murphy) to star in his movie.  Ramsey is the biggest star in Hollywood.  There’s one small catch: Ramsey doesn’t want to do it.  That’s no problem.  They’ll just film Ramsey without his knowledge.  After all, Bowfinger says that Tom Cruise didn’t know he was in Interview with the Vampire for several years.

So, now, Bowfinger has to lie, cheat and steal his way through the movie.  The only other person that knows what’s going on is Dave and that’s primarily because Dave has a small job at a big studio.  Thus, he can ‘borrow’ equipment.  Bowfinger also ‘borrows’ a credit card from one of the actors to rent or buy equipment.  Since no one else knows that Kit Ramsey isn’t actually involved in the project, Bowfinger has to invent a story as to why Ramsey isn’t to be approached for any reason.

The biggest obstacle is getting the shots of Ramsey where his character has to do something that he wouldn’t normally do.  For this, they hire a look-alike named Jiff.  (Jiff is also played by Eddie Murphy.)  Jiff’s primary job will be to do errands, which he says would be a big boost for him.  When the time comes, he’ll have to do several scenes in Ramsey’s place.  (One of the funniest scenes is the highway scene.  This alone is worth getting the movie.)

Since Bowfinger is a comedy, you have to know that the movie will work out in the end.  Yes, there are major hurdles, setbacks and obstacles, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.  When I had seen the movie, I hadn’t yet really heard of Ed Wood, but for those that know about Wood, you may notice some similarities.  Wood was known for making below-par movies with other people’s money and using a lot of stock footage.

The movie is never slow or boring.  There are a lot of jokes and funny scenes.  Kit Ramsey, for instance, seems to have mental issues.  He’s convinced that alien voices in his head want him to flash the Laker Girls.  (Since he’s already paranoid about aliens, unknowingly starring in a movie about alien invaders isn’t the best thing for him.)  Ramsey is also part of a group called Mind Head, which is a thinly veiled substitute for Scientology.

This is the kind of movie you could watch repeatedly.  There are very few movies I’d recommend buying; this is one of them.  (If you rent it, you’ll probably end up buying it anyway.)  There are so many funny scenes in the movie that you’ll probably miss most of the jokes only because you’re laughing so hard.  This is definitely a must-watch film.