209-210: Dark Knight Returns, Lethal Weapon

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209: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

With Batman: Under the Red Hood and Batman: Year One DC and Warner Bros have proven that they are able to translate their most famous property into great animated features. Their latest entry in the animated Batman series is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s legendary graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. And once again they have done the caped crusader proud, because The Dark Knight Returns is fantastic. In fact, this is the first of two parts based on this material (the next one will be released in 2013). In part one we deal mostly with the resurgence of Bruce Wayne as Batman, the rise of the Mutants and the birth of a new Robin. Frank Miller wrote a compelling story about getting older and despite the odds going above and beyond duty to clean the city up and Bob Goodman (not a new name to the DC Universe) took that story and distilled a wonderful screenplay out of it. It is a more condensed version and it moves like gangbusters. It is compelling from start to finish and it will leave you wanting for more when you’re done. I for one can’t wait for the next part to be released.

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210: Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon is a true modern classic. Along with Die Hard it represents some of the best genre filmmaking from the ’80s and I absolutely adore it. I return regularly to the adventures of Riggs and Murtaugh to see how a buddy cop movie should be made. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson work exceptionally well together in a thriller that never really stops to take a breather. Lethal Weapon works so well because we care about these characters. Martin Riggs is a suicidal cop who has to deal with the death of his wife and he is not doing a very good job. He is constantly on the verge of doing something to himself and his reluctant partner Roger Murtaugh doesn’t really need the hassle of babysitting Riggs. It’s the moments that Riggs has to deal with his problems that make the movie. Especially the scene when Riggs is sitting on the couch with his gun and the right moment Bugs Bunny is heard in the background saying “Merry Christmas!” is a perfect piece of acting and directing. And later there is the confrontation between Riggs and Murtaugh after Riggs jumps off a building that truly cements our sympathy for these characters. That scene will leave you breathless. With our sympathy firmly in place the rest of the outrageous story can unfold and we are there every step of the way with these guys. That’s what makes this one of the best buddy cop movies out there, if not one of the best movies ever made. It certainly is very high on my list of favorite movies ever.

150: Project X

Project X revolves around young air force recruit Jimmy (Matthew Broderick) who is assigned to a facility where he has to take care of a bunch of chimpanzees. Before long he is made aware that the chimps are used in animal testing. One of the chimps is Virgil. He is brought up in a loving environment and taught sign language by Teri (Helen Hunt). That is until funding runs out and Virgil is donated to the facility where Jimmy just started working. Jimmy and Virgil strike up a friendship, but when time comes for Virgil to be up for his experiment, Jimmy starts to have second thoughts.

Project X consists is your standard I-don’t-want-to-be-doing-this-because-it’s-wrong story. There is not a lot more to it. The fact that Project X is as entertaining as it is comes mainly from the charming presence of its leads. Matthew Broderick and Helen Hunt are excellent for their roles because of their wide-eyed innocence that is taken advantage of during the movie. And because the movie takes itself serious this doesn’t come off as exploitative on the part of the movie. This surprised me quite a bit. I was totally ready to skewer this ’80s romp, but it turned out to be a generally pleasant experience. There were some truly intense sequences that make you think twice about animal testing. It is admirable that the people behind Project X didn’t hold back on that material, because it gives the movie a layer of importance that puts it in the vicinity of a movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Of course there were parts of Project X that stretched my ability to suspend my disbelief. Mainly the ending sequence where the apes took flight and escaped was ludicrous and clearly the writer was fighting to find a pay-off that would satisfy ’80s audiences. If Project X were to be remade that sequence would most likely be rewritten somehow. For the most part this is a fine Matthew Broderick flick (you can even see some Ferris Bueler in him in a bar scene). One that actually stands the test of time for the most part.

> IMDb

031: Someone to Watch Over Me

This is the fourth movie in my Ridley Scott retrospective.

After making four movies which all featured extravagant visuals, storytelling, and a lot production troubles, I think Ridley Scott was ready for something different. Something smaller, something like Someone to Watch Over Me, an ordinary police thriller.

Tom Berenger plays Mike Keenan, a blue collar cop from Queens, New York, who is assigned to bodyguard the beautiful uptown woman Claire (Mimi Rogers) who is a material witness in a murder case. The close proximity to a beautiful woman and a general tiredness of life, Mike starts falling for Claire. That’s the plot, that’s all you’re gonna get. Nothing, except the visuals, will surprise you in any way about this thriller.

Berenger and Rogers are dependable to deliver a performance that carries the movie, but there is an apparent lack of chemistry to emotionally push things along. This is in part caused by Berenger’s home situation. He is married to a woman who knows what she wants, is hands-on and isn’t afraid to give him flack for the stuff he is doing. Yet he chooses the rich person, because it is more convenient. He basically is a coward. Roger Ebert described the lack of passion in his 1987 review as follows:

“The movie’s high-tech sex scenes are done with all the cinematic technical support the director, Ridley Scott, can muster, but they’re dead because they contain only sex, not passion. Needless to say, there are no sex scenes in the film between Berenger and Bracco – between the man and wife.”

I totally agree with Ebert, and the rest of what he says, that the focus is all wrong. Clearly Lorraine Bracco steals the show as Berenger’s wife who has been loyal to him all these years and doesn’t deserve this treatment. Yet, she is criminally underused and gets terrible outcome when she is turned into a damsel in distress at the end. Wow, I get more mad about this movie while writing this.

This was very much a project that probably didn’t ask much of Scott. He was a director who was, by then, used to making movies about dueling soldiers, murderous aliens, dystopian futures and prancing unicorns. We could see Someone to Watch Over Me as a turning point in Scott’s career. It wasn’t until Gladiator in 2000, thirteen years and six films later, that Scott would return to the big spectacles that his first films were. (He tried in 1492: Conquest of Paradise, but regrettably he missed the mark there. But that’s for a later post.)

Scott has made some nice smaller movies like Thelma & Louise and White Squall, but personally I prefer Scott’s movies to be epic. That’s where he shines. See Someone to Watch Over Me when you are a Ridley Scott-completist, otherwise this is not really worth your time.

> IMDb