Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mystery Train

Mystery Train. 1989. dir. Jim Jarmusch.

Jun and Mitsuko are Japanese tourists visiting Memphis, the land of their heroes: Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. They visit the famous Sun Studios and Graceland and end up in a rundown motel, where their decent engrish and Japanese customs confuse the employees.

Luisa is a recent widow from Italy who gets stuck in Memphis for one night due to a flight cancellation. Her inability to say no gives everyone opportunities to rip her off. Eventually, she meets up and rooms with Dee Dee, an impoverished woman on the run from her lover.

Johnny is a recently laid-off Englishman whose wife unexpectedly left him. Spending the majority of his screen time drinking towards oblivion, his friend Will and brother-in-law Charlie try to protect him from the .38 he carries. After an incident involving the gun, the three have to find a place to hide from the law.

Mystery Train is a film where three separate stories occur simultaneously, but are played one after the other. All of them converge in a rundown motel in Memphis, Tennessee, as the voice of Tom Waits announces the King’s “Blue Moon” on the radio. It is a dark comedy that unravels slowly, but it is a very rewarding film.

Most of the humor and topics for ethical discussions lie in the cultural differences displayed during each story. The Japanese tourists are endearing, as they reflect on “Jerry Ree Rewis,” emulate American icons, give Japanese plums as tips to bellboys, etc. The cultural difference manifested with Luisa, the Italian woman, is not as over-the-top. Early on, her unshaven armpits are exposed. Things that may be disgusting to an American may be natural to an Italian. As for Johnny (played by Joe Strummer of The Clash), he’s just a British drunk. However, unlike most of the other white characters in the film, he doesn’t share the same racial tension with black characters that the Americans express. In fact, he enacts violence upon a white man who used the word “nigger” toward Will. He’s the sole white anti-racist in the film… but not necessarily a hero.

Mystery Train is a pretty good independent film of the 80s, and probably one of Jarmusch’s best. There are many hilarious scenes and Jun lights up a cigarette pretty badass-ish. And Steve Buscemi is in it, playing a quintessential Steve Buscemi role.

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Big tells the story of thirteen year old Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) who makes a wish to be big on a carnival wizard game, so he can do the things older kids do. However, when he wakes up the next morning, he finds out that he's somehow grown to about 30 years old. Of course, his mom freaks out at the stranger in her house--which is a pretty funny sequence--so after convincing his best friend he's who he says he is, Josh goes to New York to track down the carnival machine and get his youth back. However, he finds this'll take a few weeks, so he gets a job at a toy company.

Tom Hanks does a great job of portraying a kid in an adult's body (he was nominated for an Oscar for this role). His childlike innocense while getting just about every kid's wish (growing up) and having to deal with issues of adulthood, such as getting a job, finding a place to live, and handling relationships really shows. Predictably, these situations produce comedic results, though the predictability isn't that big a problem.

It's interesting to notice how Josh changes after having sex. Aside from his jumping for joy in the office in the morning, he suddenly becomes more businessman-like and gets angry at his friend (who's a kid) while he talks on the phone to some business associate. This is a pretty interesting comment on what adulthood does to someone. In short, they stop having fun and appreciating what being a kid is like. That's the message here--no one should be in a hurry to grow up.

An intersting ethical issue the movie brings up is the story Josh makes up to explain his disappearance--that he's kidnapped. Obvioulsy this causes a whole lot of stress and anxiety on his mother's part, who believes a crazy person has her son. Was this right for Josh to do? He does try to explain what happened, but then he resorts to this kidnapping scheme.

I've heard the Jennifer Garner movie 13 Going on 30 is pretty much a remake of Big but with a girl instead of a boy, but I haven't seen that so I can't compare the two. Overall, Big was a funny, light-hearted movie that's worth watching. It stands up to later movies, since the message is still relevant today (as evidenced by Garner's psuedo-remake).

The Heat is On

Beverly Hills Cop, starring Eddie Murphy in one of his earlier roles, falls into the 'fish out of water,' buddy cop, and renegade cop subgenres. After his friend is killed, Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) leaves his hometown of Detroit and goes to Beverly Hills to track down the killer. Since he's a loose canon, Axel's tactics bring him into conflict with the local police, who consider him a problem since they're all entirely by-the-book.

The plot of this movie is certianly nothing new--movies like this came before and after it, but Murphy, and to a lesser extent Judge Reinhold as Detective Billy Rosewood (his 'Butch Cassidy' speech was hilarious), do manage to make it pretty damn funny at times. I read that the Axel Foley role was originally intended for Sylvester Stallone, but after seeing the movie I don't think that would've worked well at all. The movie is also definitely a Jerry Bruckheimer work, with the prerequisite action, sarcasm, and multiple shootouts. In fact, the Rosewood/Foley pairing closely mirrors the Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence)/Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) pairing in 1995's Bad Boys, also produced by Bruckheimer.

Beverly Hills Cop is definitely an 80's movie, especially when looking at the clothes and the music. However, it does stand up to other movies of the genre, since the rest of the movie is fairly solid as an action/comedy film. It did well enough to warrant two sequels, though I haven't seen them so I can't comment there.

Although it's definitely aged a little, I'd still recommend Beverly Hills Cop to anyone looking for a funny, action packed movie that also happens to be one of Eddie Murphy's best performances.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Before Tom went crazy...

Unlike most high school football players, Stef Djordjevic has more to worry about than how well he'll do in the next game. He is convinced that football is his ticket out of Ampipe, the small steel working town that doesn't offer him the opportunity to become an engineer. On top of the pressure from his dad to go to any college that wants him and the anger his brother has about him rejecting the path of the steel worker, Stef has to worry about the possibility of leaving his girlfriend. His only cohort in the plan to escape Ampipe, his best friend Brian, bails when he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. Stef is torn between his dream to leave and his ties to the close-knit town.
Tom Cruise displays a wide range of emotion in this film, as does his girlfriend, played by Lea Thompson. Though its themes are somewhat cliched, there are enough twists and turns to make it less possible to predict each scene as it comes. The football coach, played by Craig T. Nelson, turns out to be less one-dimensional than we might expect. The same is true of Brian, who decides that having a child is "what he really wants" after all. There is something sweet about all of the characters that draws us into the personal lives of everyone in this dingy industrial town. In this way, it is not a typical 80's high school flick: it is not all about the teenagers, but shows their place in the community.

The gray background and ever-present smog allow us to feel as trapped as Stef does. For good measure, the director includes stereotypical scenes of the high school party, and parking on a cliff overlooking the town. Overall, All the Right Moves is very well made. I would recommend this to anyone who would like to see another teen movie, with a twist. His youth makes Tom Cruise seem more endearing than in later films, but he brings the same great energy to his acting as he does in Jerry Maguire.

P.S. - Don't watch this movie for the football. Scenes of the games are lame.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Clue: The board game becomes a movie!

I was very surprised to learn that the board game Clue had been made into a movie. I used to love that game and would play it for hours upon hours with my brothers. So when I found out that it was a movie, I just had to watch it. Before I began watching it, I wondered how it would be set up, that is, how would all these people be brought together into this one house? Turns out they've all been invited to a dinner party where they are to use aliases and not reveal anything about their true selves. I thought this was a very good idea, and executed well.

As the guests begin to talk, they discover that they all have one thing in common: they are being blackmailed by their host, Mr. Boddy (love the name!). They are all given the gift of a particular weapon, and then begins the real adventure. One by one, people begin dying. While they are all on a quest to discover who the killer is, some people show up at the door: a cop, a stranded motorist, and a singing telegram girl. They, of course, also get sucked into the situation.

There are some great lines in this movie, and for a murder-mystery, it is quite funny. For instance, when Wadsworth, the butler, is asked by one of the guests what he does at the house, he replies: "I buttle." Professor Plum reveals that he works at the World Health Organization, part of the United Nations Organization; so he works for UNO WHO--very clever!!

It's very cool that the DVD of this movie has three different endings. In each one, the murders are committed by someone different. When this movie was released in the theater, the ending was chosen at random, so you never knew which one you would get if you went to the theater more than once.

If you feel like having a good laugh and watching something silly, take a look at Clue. You'll be smiling, and at the same time, you will be trying to figure out who did it. With three different endings, you're bound to be surprised once the killer is revealed.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rain Man

Mercury Rising was not a great movie..... sorry. But, it's precursor, Rain Man is a wonderful movie. At least, I think they're related. Both movies deal with autistic savantes, who perform mental tasks that the average human being would find impossible.
Rain Man is great. I mean, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It doesn't get much better. My only issue with the casting was that the love interest, Susana (Valeria Golino). Unfortunately the only other movies I can remember seeing her in are Hot Shots, and Hot Shot Part Deux. So, I had a lot of trouble taking her seriously.
But, apart from that, I really enjoyed the movie. Dustin Hoffman pulled off the part of savante very well. The scene towards the end of the movie when he bangs his head against the door, as the fire alarm goes off, is extremely uncomfortable. The way his eyes stay unfocused, and his recitation of "Who's on first" are both very convincing. I wasn't sure if all of his behavior fit. There are times when he appears too lucid or "with it". And he becomes very comfortable with being embraced in the "hearing" at the end. I also wasn't sure why he would remember certain things about Cruise's childhood, and be able to articulate his memories, but be so unable to talk about other mundane issues.
Cruise's character also showed drastic behavior changes throughout the film. He starts off being entirely self centered, quiet, greedy, and unfeeling towards his "brother". He ends the film being sensitive and loving. He goes out of his way to cater for his brother, have him treated with respect, and ensure he is taken care of. For the most part this transition is believable. AS Charlie points out, he spends 7 days on the road with Raymond, and learns to love him. I was definitely pulling for him to win custody at the end of the movie, whereas, at the beginning I thought he was a greedy, selfish jerk.
Another question I couldn't help but ask is, Why didn't they just take a train across country? And, why would Raymond be more comfortable with cars or trains, than with airplanes. As Charlie says, flight is the safest mode of transport. Surely, Raymond would know that.
Not sure why Susana popped in and out. She just kind of showed up in Las Vegas. Would she really be able to track them down that easily? Would she really want to find Charlie? And the elevator scene seemed a little forced, too.
So, after I've picked the movie apart, I still think it was darn good. 4 stars.