Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Secret! (1984)

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

I had seen Top Secret! many years ago. It was one of those movies that I’d catch halfway through five minutes before I had to go somewhere. Before I had to leave, I’d always get a few laughs. It’s one of those movies that, like Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies, tend to rely on visual gags and puns. For instance, one character builds an escape tunnel, equipped with a paved road, tiled ceiling and an exit sign that says, “New Jersey, 1 mile.” That’s why I finally decided to get the movie from Netflix and watch it all the way through.

The plot is really secondary and is used to tie the jokes together and give them context. Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, a rock musician known for songs such as “Skeet Shootin’.” He’s invited to East Germany for a ‘cultural fair’, which is really a cover so he can gather intel on this new super weapon that they're building. The person developing the weapon is an imprisoned scientist. Rivers gets involved when he meets the daughter, who’s working with an underground organization. The daughter doesn’t know where her father is being held. Fortunately, Rivers was arrested and imprisoned at the same prison that the scientist was being held at. He’s able to lead them back and free him.

There are all sorts of gags and jokes throughout the movie. Rivers is listening to a tape to learn German, but when an East German officer boards the train, Rivers is able to speak fluent German. After the officer leaves, Rivers goes back to listening to the tape. In another scene Rivers and some of the other ‘cultural fair’ attendees are presented with medals by one of the East German female Olympic teams. (The team members are all men in drag.) Also, despite it being East Germany, the East German officers seem to prefer speaking in English for the benefit of the audience. They even write notes in English. Then again, with a comedy, you can get away with more.

One of my favorite scenes is the backwards bookstore scene. This was done very well and was one of the few scenes to use subtitles. (Actually, I think it was the only scene to use subtitles.) In the scene, Rivers and the daughter enter a bookstore. (They appear to be speaking some foreign language, but that’s only because the scene is filmed backwards.) They speak to the owner, who is putting away some books. Rivers helps by ‘throwing’ some books to the upper shelves. The bookstore owner offers them a room, which they can get to by sliding up a fire pole.

The film quality isn’t that good, but I don’t think it takes too much away from the movie. The main benefit of getting the DVD is not having to watch coming attractions. You get the theatrical trailer to the movie, some deleted scenes and storyboards for some of the scenes in the movie. I’ve noticed that older movies don’t seem to be too big on commentary. Sometimes, as with Goonies, there are cast reunions, but movies made before the era of the DVD player weren’t made with DVDs in mind. I’m actually surprised that anyone thought to save the trailer and deleted scenes.

Rent this movie if you’re into comedies like Naked Gun and UHF. You’ll find much of the movie to be funny. I don’t know that everyone will like this movie. There are a few scenes that are meant for adult audiences, which I won’t even hint at here. (There’s no nudity, but I think a few parents will be covering their children’s eyes.)

If you’re in the mood for a movie you don’t have to think too much about, this is the one you want to rent. I’d even recommend it to a friend.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Jumper (2008)

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

What would you do if you could go anywhere just by thinking about it? David Rice is faced with such a question. The first time we see him jump, it’s to save his own life. He’s trapped beneath some ice and is being pulled away. Suddenly, he’s in the Ann Arbor library, still soaking wet, but safe. Abandoned by his mother at the age of five and left with a drunk father, David instantly realizes that he has the power to run away very quickly.

At first, he checks in to some hotel. Rice is able to jump to any location he wants. Instead of using his power for good, or even maybe doing some honest work, David decides to rob a bank. (This point is reinforced when David is presented with an opportunity to save some people trapped in the middle of a raging river, but does nothing.) I remember thinking that robbing a bank seems very high profile. He seemed to miss all of the security cameras, but he did attract the attention of someone named Roland.

Roland likes to pass himself off as an agent of various government agencies. The truth is that he hunts Jumpers. He feels that only God should have the ability to be anywhere and everywhere at once. He also believes that the power that Jumpers have will corrupt them and David is proving to be no exception. Roland is part of a group called the Paladins. Paladins have the ability to keep Jumpers from jumping, which they use to allow them to kill Jumpers.

The entire movie basically ends up being a battle between Roland and David. There is one other Jumper featured in the movie, who’s name is Griffin. The only other Jumper seen in the movie is killed by Roland. Griffin has gotten pretty good at getting away from the Paladins. He likes to stay away from their attention most of the time. David seems to be pretty good at getting away, too. The trouble is that Paladins will also kill loved ones, including family and girlfriends. This really sets up the tension and gives David a reason to go after Roland and not just hide.

I could see the movie being a little better. From what I understand, it’s based on a book in a series, so it may have more movies to follow. However, when the first movie doesn’t do that much to draw you in, there’s no real motivation to see any sequels. There was very little back story in the movie. There are also some elements, like the science of it all missing. There was no sense of where the Jumpers or Paladins came from except that they had been fighting for a long time.

Don’t expect greatness from this movie. Mostly, it’s an action flick. This is why I’m giving it three stars. It definitely has potential, though. I could see the movie being developed into a TV series, much like Highlander. Granted, you wouldn’t have Jumpers fighting each other, but there’s a lot of room to write stuff. This can’t be a stand-alone movie.