Wayne’s World

  • Title:  Wayne’s World
  • Director:  Penelope Spheeris
  • Date:  1992
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast:  Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’ve had plenty of ‘joe jobs’ – nothing I’d call a career. Let me put it this way – I have an extensive collection of name tags and hair nets.” – Wayne Campbell

“Sometimes, I wish I could boldly go where no man’s gone before, but I’ll probably stay in Aurora.” – Garth

“Aren’t we lucky we were there to get all that information? Seemed extraneous at the time.” – Wayne

Wayne’s World  felt very much like a 1980s movie to me when I re-watched it, so I was surprised to see the copyright date as actually 1992. The story is about two best friends, Wayne and Garth, who live in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The two have a local public access TV show that they film in Wayne’s basement called, “Wayne’s World”, and the film was developed from the Wayne’s World sketches on Saturday Night Live. However, in the film, the clips of Wayne and Garth doing their Wayne’s World show are the least successful parts of the film (they are very dated, and often fall flat).

The strength of the film, the part that shines, and still works, is that it’s a buddy film. But whereas most “buddy films” are cop films – Wayne’s World is about these two guys, good friends, who are into heavy metal music, and not taking life too seriously. The film also continuously breaks the fourth wall, as usually Wayne, addresses the audience directly. Garth, normally the quieter and shyer of the two – also, occasionally, addresses the audience. The film even features the occasional subtitle that comments on the action, such as “Oscar Clip”. The constant breaking of the fourth wall gives the film a surreal quality and an avant-garde edge. But that doesn’t mean the film is overly serious. Quite the opposite – it’s very, very funny. It’s also filled with clips of great music, and a lot of singing (almost exclusively cover versions of popular music).

The basic storyline is that Wayne and Garth have this cable access show, Wayne’s World, that they put together every week, more-or-less as a hobby, though Wayne, at least, would like to do Wayne’s World as a career. One night, Benjamin Oliver, an unsavory ad exec is flipping channels and he sees the show. He thinks it’s the perfect vehicle for his biggest client, the owner of a chain of video arcades called Noah’s Arcade. He wants to move the show to a cable network, have Noah’s Arcade sponsor it, and use it as a vehicle for, essentially, half an hour’s worth of advertising for the arcade. Benjamin’s plot works in that he gets Wayne and Garth to agree to his contract, though when Wayne gets on set he blows up and refuses to do product placement (in a hilarious scene in which at least half a dozen different products are prominently placed and used). Benjamin meanwhile sows discontent between Wayne and Garth, and gets Wayne to think his girlfriend is cheating on him. But it all works out in the end (well, in the third alternate ending).

But the film’s point isn’t really the plot. The characters, Wayne and Garth, and their close friendship – a friendship that is threatened but recovers – is at the heart of the film. Also, the idea of personal happiness being more important than money or what others call success is a subtext of the film. Yet, at it’s heart the film is just very funny – and enjoyable to watch. Wayne and Garth’s personal optimism and infectiously happy outlooks make the film enjoyable to watch. The frequent music, covers, and sing-alongs add to the fun.

Overall, one of the oddest things about the film might just be the frequent anachronisms. The entire set-up, the “Wayne’s World” cable access show is something that barely exists now. However, a real-life Wayne and Garth these days could easily do their own show on youTube, or create a regular podcast. Wayne and his new girlfriend, Cassandra talk on landline phones that include a cord. Benjamin’s client owns coin-operated video arcades. The famous, and awesome, sing-along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” starts with Wayne putting a cassette tape into the car’s tape deck (though later Wayne, at least, upgrades to an external CD drive). The film doesn’t so much look dated as have moments of, “Oh, yeah, that’s how we used to do things.” Though, it’s Garth who mostly correctly describes how he will bounce the special “Wayne’s World” episode featuring Cassandra’s performance off several communications satellites (which Garth mentions by name/number) – today such dialogue would be simplified to “bounced off several satellites”) to Mr. Sharpe’s limo to get her a  record contract. Even the three endings reference older films, such as Clue. It felt at times, like a window into the past.

Overall, I found Wayne’s World to be enjoyable to re-watch, mostly because it was just so happy. Wayne and Garth’s attitude towards women notwithstanding (Garth continuously talks about women as “babes” but can’t get up the courage to talk to the pretty blonde he keeps spotting in their neighborhood.) It some ways the film was also like an updated American Graffiti in that it portrays a time and a place, though it’s less serious in content and tone. Still, it’s fun, just plain fun.

NOTE:  I normally don’t mention DVD menus, but this one with the cable access opening is funny. Also, there are a number of hidden features on the menu (which looks like a cable TV on-screen guide).

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  When Harry Met Sally…

The Truman Show

  • Title:  The Truman Show
  • Director:  Peter Weir
  • Date:  1998
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Natascha McElhone
  • Format:   Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Seahaven is the way the world should be.” – Christof

“Cue the sun.” – Christof

Imagine if your whole world – everyone you knew, every place you’d ever seen, every memory you had, was, in a sense – not real. Your very life had been manipulated from before your birth, and that all of this was completely unknown to you. That’s the theme of The Truman Show, one of the most innovative and unusual films ever made.

Truman Burbank has an almost perfect life, living in the small island community of Seahaven. His wife is a nurse, and he works selling insurance. Truman sometimes dreams of going off on an adventure, or of being an explorer, but his daily life is quite dull, though perfect.

Then one day, as he’s about to get into his car to drive to work, a studio light crashes to the ground, nearly hitting his car. Truman thinks it’s strange, until the radio explains a plane flying over Seahaven began shedding parts. Yet, slowly, but surely, more and more strange things begin happening. Truman remembers a girl he was interested in, Lauren, the girl with a red sweater and a button that said, “How is it going to end?” but before he could really pursue a relationship with her, another girl, a cute blonde is literally dropped in his lap. Truman meets Lauren again at the library – and they try to run off together, but she is picked up and dragged away by her “father”.

As we know from scenes in Truman’s present – he marries the blonde, Meryl. But in his present, another encounter is harder to explain – he sees his father on the street. His father had died years ago, falling overboard and drowning when their sailboat was caught in a storm. Truman is disturbed by the encounter, and doesn’t quite buy the explanations offered by his mother and his wife. He meets up with his best friend, Marlin, and they have a heart-to-heart. Yet we see the Director, Christof, feeding lines to Marlin over a hidden earpiece. As the conversation concludes, a man walks out of the fog and smoke. It’s Truman’s lost father. But we see this momentous event through the eyes of the Director and his technical aides – as he orders the fog machine to back off, orders the arrangement of shots and cameras, and even has the music fade up.

Then we see the title sequence of “The Truman Show” which explains that Truman was born on camera, he was legally adopted by a Corporation, that millions had watched his first step and his “stolen kiss” (with Lauren), etc. Next is a cut to a talk show, “Tru Talk”, and an interview with Christof, the Director. Truman’s entire life is a TV show – aired 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without interruption or advertisements. It’s revenue comes from product placement – and everything on the show is for sale in “The Truman Catalog”. The rest of the cast are actors, paid to interact with Truman. The Director manipulates everything to create “good television”.

Yet, despite the return of his father, Truman continues to question, continues to push.

He walks into a travel agency – an agency with posters, not of beautiful island paradises, but of planes hit by lightening, and of dire warnings of other Bad Things that can happen to the unwary traveller. When Truman tries to buy a plane ticket, he’s told there’s nothing for two months.

Next, he kidnaps his wife and spontaneously drives off. He gets her to drive from the passenger seat with one hand on the steering wheel of the car over a bridge over water to the “mainland”, something Truman himself is afraid to do. As they continue to drive, they hear sirens – and find an accident at a Nuclear Plant, with men in hazmat and fire-proof suits. A uniformed police officer tells them they can’t continue – but the cop makes a mistake when Truman agrees to turn around and says, “You’re welcome, Truman.” Truman tries again to escape, but he’s captured.

There’s a clip of Christof explaining that Meryl will leave Truman and a new “love interest” introduced. And that he’s “determined to have the first on-air conception” on the show.

But Truman has other ideas. He pretends to go back to his old self, continues to sell insurance, and “acts normal”. But one night, he sneaks in to his basement, creates a sleeping dummy with a recording of snores, and hides in a closet, then breaks out through a hole. This is discovered by the Director, who’s in his control room on the moon. First, Marlin is sent to find out if Truman is really sleeping (he discovers the deception). Then the entire cast and all extras are sent to search for Truman, they step in a long line, perfectly in time, arms linked, to a frightening sound reminiscent of goose-stepping. The group even has barking dogs. Having already ceased transmission, Christof is desperate to find his star. He uses the moon as a searchlight. Finally, even though it’s too early, he turns on the sun.

Christof realizes the one place he hasn’t searched is the sea. He finds Truman on a sailing boat, and begins transmitting pictures again. The audience begins to root for Truman’s escape, especially Lauren who leads some sort of protest group that wants Truman freed. As Truman tries to make his escape, Christof orders a storm. When his orders to stop Truman escalate to killing him by capsizing the boat – the other directors and technicians finally protest and refuse. Christof increases the storm and Truman falls off the boat and into the water. Christof turns off the storm and Truman, not drowned, coughs up the water and makes it back onto the boat. At this point, Christof says he wants to talk to Truman.

Christof’s voice appears to come from a break in the clouds.

“Who are you?” asks Truman.

“I am the creator of a television show that gives hope, and joy, and inspiration to millions,” replies Christof.

“Who am I?” asks Truman.

“You are the star,” replies Christof.

Christof then tells Truman he has watched him since he was born, saw him take his first step, watched him cut his first tooth. Truman still is determined to leave Christof’s giant television studio. He’s awakened when his boat hits the wall of the studio, and he walks, apparently on water, around the edge, until he finds a stair case. Finally, Truman climbs the stairs and exits the door. Christof orders “Cease Transmission”.

But the meta of the film is carried over into the credits which are listed in three parts: Truman’s World, Christof’s World, and the Viewers. Only the characters in Truman’s World have names – other than Christof and “Chloe” in Christof’s world characters are listed by their job description, “Control Room Director”, “Network Exceutive”, “Keyboard Artist”, etc. Similarly, the audience members are listed by descriptions, “bar waitress”, “Man in Bathtub”, “Japanese Family”, etc.

The Truman Show is a deep and fascinating film. Originally almost dismissed as a commentary on the “new” phenomena of Reality Television, it’s actually a deeply philosophical film. The Director is God – he’s created Truman’s entire world. He controls all of Truman’s encounters. If an actor becomes difficult or complains – they are removed from the show. New characters are introduced – giving the Director the show he wants – creating situations that Truman should respond to in predictable ways, such as dropping Meryl in his lap. Even what the actors say is at times scripted or suggested by Christof – such as Meryl insipid product placement lines (which she always delivers badly) or in a more serious scene, Christof feeding lines to Marlin to give to Truman. When the reality starts to break down, Truman’s search to find Lauren, to escape to Fiji, is really an attempt to understand his world and discover who he really is. It’s not accidental at all, that when Christof first speaks to Truman, it’s a voice, from the sun, peaking out from clouds, after a storm. That’s  a very Christian image. Though the entire story is of Truman’s fight to push the boundaries of his world and control his own fate, rather than stay safe, in a world created for him. Christof loses his battle, when Truman wins.

Besides the Christian implications, there’s another whole level to the film – the meta implications. Although the first half of the film stays in Truman’s world, but often with lens hazing or a curved perspective (like the really old shots in films that indicated a character was looking through binoculars or a telescope), once he meets his father, we are introduced to Christof’s World. We hear Christof defending his perspective. We hear Lauren, an actress named Sylvia, attack Christof on the “Tru Talk” call-in talk show program. And we see the audience watching the show and making comments – and eventually rooting for Truman’s escape. It’s a film, about a fictional television show, that shows us the director making that show, and the audience watching that show. It’s just so meta it practically defines the term.

And in many ways, this seventeen-year-old film predicts in a non-specific way, our world of constant Social Media interaction. The give-and-take and interaction between viewers and makers of film and television via websites, social media, Live Tweet Events, etc. The creating of profiles to emphasize what we want others to know about us and de-emphasize or even hide what we don’t want others to know about us. The putting on a friendly face, that can be an act as much as Truman’s wife and best friend act a certain way towards him. Though, to it’s credit, Truman’s world isn’t a totally paranoid or scary one. And in our world, Social Media does much good – giving voice to the voiceless, and in times of crisis turning us all into citizen journalists.

The Truman Show is an underrated classic and it is a film that really must be seen. I highly, highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: UHF

Tomorrow Never Dies

  • Title:  Tomorrow Never Dies
  • Director:  Roger Spottiswoode
  • Date:  1997
  • Studio:  United Artists / MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Teri Hatcher, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yoeh, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Geoffrey Palmer, Vincent Schiavelli
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Mr. Jones, Are we ready to release our new software?”  – Carver
“Yes, sir. As requested it’s full of bugs, which means people will be forced to upgrade for years.” – Jones

“Gentleman, and ladies, hold the presses. This just in. By a curious quirk of fate, we have the perfect story with which to launch our satellite news network tonight. It seems a small crisis is brewing in the South China Seas. I want full newspaper coverage. I want magazine stories. I want books. I want films. I want TV. I want radio. I want us on the air 24 hours a day! This is out moment! And a billion people around the world will watch it, hear it, and read about it from the Carver Media Group.” – Carver

Tomorrow Never Dies is my favorite Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, and it’s one of the best James Bond films in the modern era because for once it has a relatively realistic premise – told in the high-action style of James Bond, of course. The film is about Elliot Carver, a media mogul played brilliantly by Jonathan Pryce, who isn’t merely reporting events, or even spinning events to fit his own point of view, but actually causing the events his media group reports.

For once the opening gambit of a James Bond movie actually fits with the rest of the plot. One of the items up for sale at a terrorist bazaar in Russia is a satellite encoder, which can influence (or change) GPS data. James Bond manages to locate the bazaar, and launch and take away a plane loaded with nuclear missiles prior to the British Navy’s missile destroying the bazaar and the terrorists who are shopping there. However, though the analysts see the encoder, and recognize what it is – they don’t realize it wasn’t destroyed and that Henry Gupta – a hacker for hire escaped with it.

The encoder is important because it allows the next major event to happen. A British ship, HMS Devonshire, is cruising in what it thinks are international waters off the coast of China. The ship is overflown by Chinese migs who insist they are only 11 miles off the coast of China. The Devonshire‘s captain double checks their position with GPS – and then they are attacked and sunk by a stealth ship. The British ship reports they were attacked by the migs, and gives their position before calling abandon ship. The survivors are collected by Stamper, Carver’s thug and enforcer, and shot with Chinese ammo. Carver reports on the developing crisis – using the potential for war, to launch his satellite news network.

James Bond is sent to investigate – first to Hamburg, where he’s instructed to get close to Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), with whom he had previously had a relationship. Paris gives him some information, and is killed for her trouble by Carver. While investigating, Bond runs into a Chinese reporter, Wai Lin. Later it will turn out she’s his opposite number, an agent for the Chinese security service. Bond’s able to get the GPS encoder and escape from Hamburg.

He takes the encoder to the CIA, because it’s an American device. Bond’s CIA contact shows it to a tech, who confirms it could have been used to send the Devonshire off course. The CIA also arranges to drop Bond into the Ocean to find the ship’s wreckage. The Americans assume Bond is jumping into international waters, but one of the British naval officers on the flight realizes he’s actually jumping in to waters belonging to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Bond succeeds in his HALO jump. He find the Devonshire and runs into the Chinese woman again. The two are caught by Stamper, and brought to Carver. They escape, handcuffed together, on a motorcycle. Bond and Wai Lin end-up working together, sending warning messages to both the British and Chinese governments that Carver’s playing them against each other, then head out to locate Carver’s stealth boat.

Bond and Wai Lin plan on blowing up the stealth boat with sea bombs, but are again caught by Carver and his goons. Carver explains his entire plot – not only is he using the crisis he created to “sell papers” and successfully launch his news network – but he’s working with a Chinese general. Carver’s stealth boat will launch an attack on the British fleet (after some initial minor attacks on both fleets) it will then use one of the cruise missiles stolen from the Devonshire to attack Beijing – wiping out the current government and military leaders, except Carver’s general who will be conveniently stuck in traffic. After setting up his new government, the general will grant Carver exclusive media access in China – creating a captive audience worth billions. In short, Carver is creating events, for ratings.

Wai Lin and Bond again escape Carver’s clutches and manage to kill Carver and his muscleman, Stamper, and sink the ship before the cruise missile is launched.

Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t lacking for action sequences as well. They include: Bond and Wei Lin handcuffed together, on a motorcycle, riding through a densely-populated area while being chased by Carver’s men; Bond using a remote control built into his (rather ancient-looking) cell phone to control his car; even Bond’s escape from Carver in Hamburg; and the scenes on the stealth ship, of course. All the big action sequences one expects from a Bond film – and they are well done, technically, and because we care about Bond and Wei Lin – they work in the film too. The action sequences are not overly long, overly complicated, nor do they have effects that no longer work – everything looks really good. So the film satisfies on the level of what a Bond film should be. But what I really liked about the film was the villain and the plot. Elliot Carver is a totally unscrupulous reporter turned media mogul, who’s incredibly psychopathic. Throughout the film we see him fire people for “mistakes” that aren’t their own (such as the woman who’s fired for not knowing what caused the power outage during his media launch party) or even kill any one who gets in the way of his plans, including his own wife. And, of course, he’s willing to sink a British warship, cause a crisis, and risk world war – just to get what he wants, complete power. Throughout the film – Carver gets the best lines, as he explains how the press can not only manipulate events to suit their own corporate purposes – but in Carver’s case, cause events in the first place. Pryce is delicious as Carver.

I also really liked Michelle Yoeh as Wai Lin – the Chinese agent who’s a female Bond. Wei Lin is just as smart as James, and just as dedicated to her country. And I’d watch a film or two about her! Yoeh also plays the part brilliantly.

And, like all of Brosnan’s films, the reoccurring roles of M, Q, Moneypenny, and M’s aide, are all played by excellent regulars. I love seeing Judi Dench as M. Samantha Bond is excellent as Moneypenny. And I really like seeing Colin Salmon as Dench’s aide – even when he has little to do as in this film. Geoffrey Palmer, Dench’s frequent co-star in British comedies, also appears as a British Admiral. Having the new Bond family there, as well as Desmond Llewelyn as Q just makes the Bond film a Bond film, as well as adding that unique something they all bring to it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Top Hat 

The Three Musketeers

  • Title:  The Three Musketeers
  • Director:  Stephen Herek
  • Date:  1993
  • Studio:  Walt Disney Pictures
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Cast:  Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Rebecca De Mornay, Gabrielle Anwar, Paul McGann
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, Region 1

“You go back, and you tell the Cardinal, we will continue to perform our sworn duty, which is to protect the King, and we will use every means in our power to fight him.” – Athos

“A remarkable woman – the most beautiful I’ve ever known, and the deadliest, which would explain my attraction.” – Cardinal Richelieu

“D’Artagnan, would you be so kind as to redistribute this wealth? [D’Artagnan looks confused] Throw the coins, man, people are hungry.” – Aramis

“This world is an uncertain realm filled with danger, honor undermined by the pursuit of power, freedom sacrificed when the weak are oppressed by the strong, but there are those who oppose these powerful forces, who dedicate their lives to truth, honor, and freedom. Those men are known as Musketeers.” – the King

Disney’s The Three Musketeers is a fun, adventurous, romp. Although there are lines here and there referring to the sorry state of the people of France, and the assassination of the previous King of France (the new King’s father), it’s not dwelt upon – at all. The result is this is a fun, light, frothy adventure film.

With the death of the previous King, and a very young new King on the throne of France, the evil Cardinal Richelieu is posed to take over France, and even aims to become King himself. Richelieu is played with considerable relish, and some chewing of scenery by Tim Curry, so you know it’s going to be fun. Richelieu’s opening move is to dismantle the Musketeers the King’s personal and private guard. Told of the disbanding of the Musketeers, the men ceremonially burn their blue tunics and turn in their swords.

Three Musketeers refuse to give in, however, and become outlaws.

Meanwhile, Chris O’Donnell plays an arrogant young man who is on his way to Paris to join the Musketeers like his father. He gets into a duel with Girard, who believes he wronged his sister. The duel is, however, swiftly broken up and the young man, D’Artagnan, heads to Paris. Upon arriving he find a man in the destroyed former HQ of the Musketeers. Assuming the HQ has merely been moved, he asks for the new location. D’Artagnan learns that the Musketeers have been disbanded. He manages to get Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, upset with him and ends up with appointments for duels with each of them – at 12:00, 1:00, and 2:00, respectively.

When he arrives, late, for his duel with Athos, he meets the other Musketeers as well. The three are surprised to learn D’Artagnan has arranged duels with them all. And D’Artagnan is shocked to learn the three men he’s agreed to fight are Musketeers. He finds no joy in killing a Musketeer. But there will be no killing – the Cardinal’s guards attack and the four men fight back. The Three Musketeers are surprised by the young D’Artagnan’s skill. They defeat the first group of the Cardinal’s guards, then another group attacks. Athos urges D’Artagnan to leave and go home.

D’Artagnan, doesn’t leave, gets separated from the group and is captured. But he frees himself from the dungeons and hears the Cardinal meet Mi Lady D’Winter – and hears their entire plan. Richelieu plans to betray France to England by signing a treaty with Lord Buckingham – his payment for this will be the throne of France. Mi Lady D’Winter will carry his terms, and the treaty to Calais. Somehow, though he hears the entire plan, D’Artagnan doesn’t see Mi Lady D’Winter, or forgets who she is when he meets her later.

The Three Musketeers rescue D’Artagnan from the chopping block – literally, and they escape in the Cardinal’s own coach. The four drink the Cardinal’s wine, eat his food, and give his coin to the poor as they leave Paris. D’Artagnan tells the Musketeers of Richelieu’s plot – and the Musketeers realize that if they can stop the spy and get the treaty, they will be able to prove Richelieu’s a traitor, as well as saving France. Unfortunately, the Cardinal knows that D’Artagnan knows about his plot – he orders a 1000 gold coin bounty on the heads of him and the Musketeers. This makes getting to Calais difficult.

To make their travel less obvious, and to double the chances of finding the spy – the four split into two groups. Athos and D’Artagnan are attacked by bounty hunters. D’Artagnan offers to stay with Athos (until the bitter end, because they are outnumbered by men with guns, or at least, muskets), but Athos orders him to go on to Calais, knowing that finding the spy, stopping Richelieu and rescuing the King are more important than a single Musketeer’s life.

D’Artagnan takes the surviving horse and heads off but eventually falls asleep and falls off his horse. He’s picked up by a woman in a carriage – a woman he doesn’t recognize. She’s Mi Lady D’Winter. They go to the ship for her meeting with Buckingham. But Porthos and Aramis have reached the ship first, and have knocked out or killed the crew. The Musketeers end-up with the treaty, and D’Artagnan is again, rescued. Mi Lady D’Winter turns out to be Sabine – Athos wife, whom he kicked out and thought dead. Athos had regretted his decision to kick out his wife (he thought her an enemy of France and a murderer, she professed her innocence, he exiled her anyway.)

The next morning she’s to be executed. Athos had tried to get her to tell him the rest of Richelieu’s plan, but she refuses. At the execution, Athos stops the ax-man. Sabine reveals that Richelieu plans to have the King assassinated at his birthday celebration, that Friday. She forgives Athos for not believing in her all those years ago, then kills herself by jumping off a cliff.

The Musketeers and D’Artagnan rush to Paris, leaving “All for one and One for All” markers everywhere in their wake. At the birthday celebration, the four try, desperately, to find the assassin. He gets a shot off, misses, and the plaza fills with Cardinal’s guards and Musketeers. D’Artagnan, meanwhile fights the assassin on a nearby rooftop. The battle moves inside as Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan, try to find and rescue the King and Queen from the Cardinal. They succeed, the Cardinal is captured, and the King admits D’Artgnan into the Musketeers.

Again, this is fun, light, adventure film. There’s no serious violence. No one gets killed. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. In the middle there’s lots, and lots, of sword-fighting to enjoy – as well as chases. The film’s score is excellent, and the cast is good – if a bit young. The filming is gorgeous – and especially the greens just pop off the screen. The whole film has a very storybook quality to it. It’s highly enjoyable, and not too deep. I recommend this, especially for families.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  Four Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds

The Thomas Crown Affair

  • Title:  The Thomas Crown Affair
  • Director:  John McTiernan
  • Date:  1999
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Romance, Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Faye Dunaway
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Regret is usually a waste of time. As is gloating. Have you figured out what you’re gonna’ say to your board when they learn that you paid me $30 Million more than others were offering?” – Thomas Crown

“It’s obvious that you like men, but you never keep any of them around very long, either.” – Thomas Crown
“Oh, well, men make women messy.” – Catherine

“You really think there’s happy ever after for people like us?” – Catherine

The Thomas Crown Affair is a fun, romantic, romp – in both senses of the word – romance. Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is a very successful and rich businessman who has made his multi-billion dollar fortune by acquiring other businesses, then selling them off. The realities of such a source of income aren’t explored – basically, he’s rich, successful, lonely, and bored.

Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is a highly successful insurance investigator and bounty hunter. She makes her considerable fortune collecting a portion of the recovery fee from high stakes art theft recovery.

Michael McCann (Denis Leary) is a cop, who – we find at the end of the film – would rather work homicides, or help abused women and kids then worry about a multi-million dollar art theft.

The film opens with Crown starring at a painting of haystacks in the Impressionist wing of a large unnamed art museum in New York. He apparently does this a lot, as one of the museum guards recognizes him and the two also make small talk. Meanwhile, the loading dock workers are surprised when a large crate is delivered. They are expecting an Egyptian sarcophagus, but instead a large Greek horse sculpture was delivered instead. Soon, a group of men break out of the horse and attempt to steal paintings from the museum. They are caught, but an investigation quickly indicates that a Monet, worth $100,000 million dollars is now missing from the museum. The Monet will be the McGuffin of the film – it also brings together the main characters.

Leary’s Mike McCann, is a tough, wisecracking, swearing, New York City cop who would rather investigate a murder or do anything else other than investigate an art theft. But he’s called in, and his initial sweep of the Impressionist wing, isn’t successful – either in finding the missing Monet, nor in understanding how the crime occurred or what the thieves were trying to accomplish. But even Mike, appreciates the slightly twisted humor of the Trojan Horse being used to gain access to the museum.

During his initial investigation, Catherine arrives. Much more experienced in investigating art thefts – she corrects nearly every assumption Mike’s made. They spark some. It’s Catherine, who realizes that the showy and unsuccessful attempted theft was a distraction, so the Monet could be stolen by someone else – and she and Mike immediately suspect Crown.

The resulting cat-and-mouse game has Catherine and Mike attempting to catch Crown and get the Monet back. This is complicated by Crown’s romantic pursuit of Catherine. Mike sees Crown’s interest as a way for him to keep her off-balance so he doesn’t get caught. Mike is also jealous of Crown – not necessarily simply his money and success, but he would like to become romantically involved with Catherine himself – though he knows she wouldn’t be interested in a plain, blue-collar, cop like him, especially when she could easily have a rich, successful, businessman like Crown.

Crown romantically pursues Catherine – dancing with her in a club, taking her home for a steamy session of sex, taking her for a flying lesson in his glider, and then taking her away for a weekend to his Caribbean Island get away. Their romance is intercut with the investigation by both the police and Catherine of the art theft. On Crown’s side, his romance is intercut with sessions with his psychologist, played by Faye Dunaway. She points out his deep distrust of women.

Trust will be a re-occurring theme of the film. Can two extremely rich people really trust someone new? Especially when that person may have a reason to not be trusted? Catherine has trouble trusting Crown because not only did he probably steal the Monet – but he may be only using her affection to get away with the crime. For his part, Thomas Crown has reason to not trust Catherine – after all, she could find evidence of his illegal activities – and have him arrested.

The Thomas Crown Affair  is stylish, smart, bold, romantic, and steamy. The music is wonderful, though my (very cheap) copy seems to be missing some of the music. Setting the story firmly in the art world gives it a gloss that a similar romantic film in another setting wouldn’t have. There’s some wonderful direction of the initial theft, and Crown’s crazy plan to return the Monet – let’s just say, The Purloined Letter, and leave it at that. Brosnan is sexy, and plays his smart, rags-to-riches character well. Russo is also sexy and smart.

I enjoyed seeing this film again. It’s more of a romance than a caper film – the stolen Monet really is no more than a McGuffin. Russo has excellent chemistry with both Crown and Mike. And the film has the last minute twist-that-isn’t-really-unexpected that works for this type of romantic film. Overall, it’s a great role for Brosnan, and I wish he would make more of this type of romantic film.

The Thomas Crown Affair is a remake of the film of the same name from 1968 starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. In my opinion, and I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me – the modern film is better. Personally, I really dislike Steve McQueen – he gives me the creeps, and he’s so icy and cold. McQueen’s the type of actor I constantly expect in his roles to turn out to be a serial killer or something, and I just cannot watch him. Dunaway is also a cold actress, and I just can’t see her playing a romantic role well (though in the 1960s, icy blondes were popular in romantic and suspense films.) Brosnan is much better as a romantic hero – and he gives Crown the depth of someone who is emotionally closed off, and what that costs him. Russo is the exact opposite of cold. Leary adds to the plot, giving the 1999 film a much more modern feeling.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 3 out of 5 (Slightly predictable)
Next film:  The Three Musketeers (1993)

Shall We Dance? (1996)

  • Title:  Shall We Dance? (Japan, 1996)
  • Director:  Masayuki Suo
  • Date:  1996
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Genre:  Drama, Musical
  • Cast:  Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eri Watanaka, Hiromasa Taguchi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (In Japanese, with English Subtitles)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“…There is a secret wonder…about the joys that dance can bring.” – Spoken introduction

“Dance is more than just the steps.  Feel the music and just dance for sheer joy.” – Sensei Tanaka

Shall We Dance (1996) and Shall We Dance (2004) have the exact same plot, but it is the Richard Gere film that is a re-make and Americanization of this Japanese film.  I actually saw both in the movie theater, and enjoyed them both.

The Japanese film starts with a spoken introduction about the reserved nature of the Japanese people, a nature than sees ballroom dancing with suspicion.  In a land where married couples don’t hold hands, much less kiss in public, and would seldom if ever express love with words even in private, the act of dancing with a stranger is seen, well, as something perverse. However, this film is about ballroom dancing in Japan and the world-wide competitive dance sport.

Sugiyama, is a successful accountant, who has just bought a house for his family.  He works long hours and commutes daily to his job.  He is satisfied, if not exactly happy with his life. But it would never occur to him to change anything.  On the commute, from his train window, he sees a beautiful young woman in a dance studio – who seems filled with melancholy.  It takes a few tries for Sugiyama to work up the courage, but he finally goes to the dance studio to sign up for lessons.

Upon learning that private lessons are very expensive, he signs up for group lessons instead. His tutor is Sensei (teacher) Tanaka, an older, experienced, and patient teacher. The other students in the class include a slightly overweight man who’s taking dance lessons to lose weight and hopefully meet girls, and a know-it-all type who’s taken one dance class before with his wife, and now thinks improving his dance skills will impress her.

Also at the studio is Mr. Aoki, who works with Sugiyama at his office, and is a competitive dance hopeful; and a second teacher (Toyoko) who also hopes to be more successful at competitive dance.  Mia, the young woman Sugiyama saw in the window, also works there, but only gives private lessons.  Unraveling her story is as much of the plot, as are Sugiyama’s growing skills at dance.

Sensei Tanaka works with Sugiyama and his fellow students, teaching them basic steps, and the ten competitive dances as well as a few fun, social dances.

At home, Sugiyama’s wife and daughter notice he now seems happier, but eventually, his wife grows suspicious and hires a private detective.  Upon learning his secret is that he’s taking weekly dance lessons, and he’s not having an affair, his wife accepts it, but is confused. Remember that, culturally, ballroom dance isn’t accepted.

As the students improve, there are montages not only of the dance lessons, but of Sugiyama dancing on the train platform, in a park (including in the rain), and even moving his feet in time under his desk.  Meanwhile, Mr. Aoki, slides through corridors and rows of desks with precise movements – but cannot find a good partner for competitive dance.

The second half of the film involves an amateur ballroom dance competition.  Due to various events, Toyoko will dance two traditional dances (Waltz, and Quick Step) with Sugiyama and the Latin dances (Rumba, and Paso Double) with Mr. Aoki.  The Latin dances are first and Aoki starts off doing what he always does – overacting, using “jazz hands”, and wearing a ridiculous wig and costume.  A competitor turns the wig, so for the second dance he removes it and dances far better than he ever has, because he’s not trying to be someone he’s not. During their dances, Sugiyama and Toyoko are doing brilliantly, until Sugiyama’s distracted by his daughter rooting him on from the stands.  He manages to step on and tear off Toyoko’s skirt.  Needless to say, Toyoko is forced to default.

Sugiyama is appalled by this.  He gives up dancing and goes back to his wife and daughter. He’s invited to a fair-well party for Mia, who’s decided to return to Blackpool (England) and competitive dancing. Finally, though, he shows up at the very end of her party and she dances her last dance with him.  As they dance, other couples join in on the dance floor.

The Japanese, original, film version of Shall We Dance? moves at a slower pace than the re-make with Richard Gere.  But at times, this makes for a better film.  It’s filled with fascinating characters, all of whom have their own stories, and all of whom are looking for something.  That it isn’t until the very end that we find out all of Mia’s story, makes her story that much richer.  The music also, is mostly traditional ballroom dance music.  “Save the Last Dance for Me” is used for montages.  Mia’s theme dance song is “Shall We Dance?” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I  (yes, the Yul Brenner musical).  “Shall We Dance?” fits, but it will stick in your head for days after seeing the film.

Recommended:  See it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Oz the Great and Powerful

Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

  • Title:  Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country
  • Director:  Nicholas Meyer
  • Date:  1991
  • Genre:  SF, Mystery
  • Cast:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Keonig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kim Cattrall, Mark Lenard, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Dorn, William Morgan Sheppard, Christian Slater
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“We believe it [the explosion on Praxis] was caused by over-mining and insufficient safety precautions.  The moon’s decimation means deadly pollution of their ozone.  They [Klingons] will have depleted their supply of oxygen in approximately fifty Earth years.  Due to their enormous military budget the Klingon economy does not have the resources to combat this catastrophe.” – Spock

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Volaris, not the end.” – Spock

“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read it in the original Klingon.” – Chancellor Gorkin

“You don’t trust me, do you?  I don’t blame you.  If there is going to be a Brave New World, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” – Chancellor Gorkin

Star Trek VI starts with a bang, but what at first appears to be a supernova, is in fact a man-made (well, Klingon-made) explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis.  This explosion causes a huge shockwave, which hits the Excelsior on patrol in the area under the command of Captain Sulu.  Once recovered from the shockwave hit, Sulu offers help, but the Klingons order him to stay outside the neutral zone.

There’s a top-secret meeting at Star Fleet, where Spock reveals that over-mining and lack of safety precautions on Praxis caused the moon to explode.  This has poisoned the Ozone on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, and the planet will be uninhabitable in 50 years.  Spock has worked with the Klingon chancellor, Gorkin, coming to an arrangement to de-militarize Star Fleet.  Gorkin and the Federation will work towards an uneasy peace.  Kirk, who has already indicated his agreement with the most militant of the Star Fleet Admirals, is charged with escorting Gorkin to Earth for a peace conference.

Kirk continues to tell pretty much anyone who will listen that he distrusts Klingons, and even notes in his private captain’s log that he blames the Klingons for his son’s death.

Kirk and his crew, including Spock, but minus Sulu (who is on the Excelsior still) precede to the point where they are to meet Gorkin’s ship.  Once there, they invite Gorkin and his staff to a state dinner on the Enterprise.  The dinner is a difficult experience for all involved, but not a complete disaster.  Shortly after the dinner, as Kirk is settling in from a bit too much Romulan Ale, he’s called to the bridge because of a radiation surge.  As Kirk watches helplessly, first one, then a second torpedo hit Gorkin’s ship, seemingly from the Enterprise herself.

Two Federation officers, wearing gravity boots, and darkened helmets, beam to the Klingon vessel, Kronos One, and kill anyone in their way, before attacking Gorkin.  They then escape. The gravity boots were necessary because the torpedo shots had disabled the Klingon ship’s artificial gravity.

When the Klingons threaten to fire on Enterprise in retaliation, Kirk surrenders his ship.  He then takes McCoy with him to Kronos One. Gorkin is injured but not quite dead.  McCoy tries to save him, despite his lack of knowledge of Klingon anatomy, but Gorkin dies anyway.

Kirk and McCoy are arrested by the Klingons for killing the Chancellor.  Though Defense Attorney Worf attempts to fight the good fight, they are found guilty almost immediately. Evidence against Kirk includes his private log entry about blaming Klingons for the death of his son. Kirk and McCoy are sent to a Klingon prison planet to mine dilithium.

Meanwhile, Spock attempts to find out who really orchestrated the attack on the Klingons, and killed Gorkin.  Piece by piece, he works it out with the help of others on the Enterprise.

I don’t want to go into details of how Spock solves the mystery, because that would really spoil the movie.  However, he does uncover a conspiracy between a few Star Fleet officers and Klingon hard-liners to get rid of Gorkin who had really wanted peace between the Klingons and the Federation (that is, his plans were not a feint or something designed to lure the Federation into “a false sense of security” before a Klingon attack.).

Spock then rescues Kirk and McCoy from the prison planet, and they go off to try to prevent an assassination attempt at the new peace conference at “Camp something”.  With some help from Sulu and officers on the Excelsior, the Enterprise crew succeeds in saving the Chancellor’s daughter, now the new head of the Klingon Empire and thus saves the peace conference.

In his closing monologue, Kirk notes that his crew will make a final cruise (his last line is, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning,” a quote from Peter Pan) then return to Earth to stand down for retirement and a new crew will continue to explore where no man or no one has gone before.  The closing credits include the signatures of the original Enterprise crew (Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Nichols, Keonig, and Takei).

Star Trek VI is essentially a murder mystery with cold war trappings.  Klingons quoting Shakespeare and a reference to The Manchurian Candidate are thrown in as well.  But though that may seem to sound like it’s not that good a movie, I actually enjoyed it.  I found Star Trek VI to be fun – really fun.  First, no one dies in this film.  OK, the Klingon chancellor dies, but really – he’s playing the part of a murder victim, in a story where our heroes must solve a crime.  But it’s not like Wrath of Khan where Spock dies, or where the Enterprise herself is destroyed.  As is frequently the case with Star Trek, the trappings of the film are definitely Cold War.  The Federation is clearly the US/the West and the Klingons are clearly the Russians. Even the guard on the prison planet introduces it as a “gulag” (Russian for “prison”) and speaks with a Russian accent.  The Klingon chancellor who genuinely seeks peace is Gorkin, very similar to Gorbachev.  And the incident that starts the film, the explosion on Praxis, was clearly inspired by the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor disaster in 1986.

What is surprising about the film is the amount of prejudice and hatred we see from characters we know and care about. It isn’t just Kirk who “hates Klingons”.  Throughout the first half of the film, all sorts of nasty remarks are made about the Klingons, from “They don’t place the same value on life as us,” to “Did you see the way they eat?”  It was really quite disturbing.

But what makes the film work is the murder mystery aspect.  Again, we know Kirk isn’t guilty – but the evidence seems indisputable.  So not only must Spock discover who did it – he must discover “how did it”, which is always more interesting. And Spock makes for a fine detective, he even quotes Sherlock Holmes, “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however, improbable must be the truth.”  Yes, that’s right, Spock refers to Holmes as an “ancestor”. Which suggests that in the Star Trek universe Sherlock Holmes was real, and that quite probably he was the result of a time traveling Vulcan experiment (and yes, I want to see that story!) Anyway, I enjoyed the mystery aspect, and Spock, step by step, figuring out what happened, how it happened, and ultimately – who was really responsible.

I hadn’t seen this film probably since I saw it in the theater when it originally was released, and I remembered enjoying it then.  The DVD copy I watched, I actually picked up second-hand a year or so ago.  I think at the time, especially with Chernobyl, Glasnost, Perestroika, and Gorbachev fresh in people’s minds – the Cold War plot would have had more meaning.  Now it seems like set dressing. However, what really caught my attention was that Praxis was destroyed by over-mining and lack of safety precautions, resulting in an environmental disaster that would, eventually, destroy the Klingon homeworld and that the Klingon Empire spent so much on the military and arms it couldn’t even do anything about it, also caught my attention.  Because both those things seem much more appropriate now – and not in Russia.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 out of 5
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (Japan, 1996)