Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Reading, writing, ‘rithmetic!
(Reading writing ‘rithmetic)
Too much homework makes me sick
(Too much homework makes me sick!)
When it’s time to pass the test
(When it’s time to pass the test)
Kindergarten is the best
(Kindergarten is the best!)

*shudder*
A “predator” is nothing compared to a class full of four-year-olds.

I regarded Kindergarten Cop as a forgettable late-era Ivan Reitman/Arnold Schwarzenegger collaboration like Twins and Junior, but perhaps because we missed Total Recall and The Running Man, the kids were semi-interested—enough to actually amble down to the theater and check it out. (And as forgettable as it was, I always remembered the chant, and have considered the approach of handling mobs of children with strict police discipline a winner.)

It was a bit of a box office disappointment, taking in substantially less at the box office than the previous outing, Twins, and finishing only 10th for the year, under the also somewhat disappointing Total Recall (which finished 7th). Schwarzenegger blamed this on the movie’s violence. Upon reviewing, though, it seems to me that Reitman was trying to recapture the magic of Ghostbusters, which successfully blended comedy with the sci-fi/SFX-extravaganza by blending comedy—the RomCom, even—with the cop movie.

"I'm thinking! I'm thinking!"
“What do you mean, it’s either you or the truffle shuffle kid?”

What’s weird is: this movie holds up shockingly well. I might even enjoy it more now. Sometimes when a movie is better (or worse) in retrospect it’s because you’ve changed. Other times, it’s because, well, times have changed. And I think that’s the case here. The clichés of the ’80s cop flick were so well-established (much like those of the jungle-rescue, as seen in Predator) I think it was easy to dismiss them even when very well done. And here, it’s not so much that they’re well done as they are comically absurd—and deliberately so! Kimble (Arnold) is basically Venkman—Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters.

He’s a real cop, sure, unlike Murray’s faux-scientist, but his complete disregard for anything like procedure and his complete lack of concern for the consequences of his action when dealing with The Bad Guys (and you always know who they are!) is really in the same mold. Pamela Reed, in a typically great turns as his erstwhile partner, actually comes off as more by-the-book (though not at all uptight, saving us from another cliché). The damsel-in-distress is Penelope Ann Miller, with a red herring from Cathy Moriarty (got me this time, too), and her son (the now middle-aged Joseph and Christian Cousins) provides a good vehicle for our musclebound Austrian to demonstrate his softer side. (To say nothing of the mob of children.)

She doesn't do nearly enough voice work.
She was a regular on “Jericho,” which I’ve heard good things about.

And, you know what? He’s really good! He can speak about 10-times clearer than he did in Predator, which was only 3 years earlier, indicating to me that, even though wildly successful, he was working his ass off to expand his range. He can actually make with the funny, beyond (very) short quips. He has great chemistry with the kids; in a way, the “love story” is about him and the children, and there’s enough there to hang your hat on about the decision to work a career (a sometimes awful career like vice cop) versus appreciating your family in a place that’s a lot less seedy. (In this case, Astoria, Oregon, home of The Goonies.)

The kids were pleased, and I was surprised. Reitman was like that: Under even the least of his movies, there tended to be a lot of heart and soul, to say nothing of professionalism. I’m talking about him like he’s dead and not working on a sequel to Twins called Triplets (with Eddie Murphy as the genetic match to Schwarzenneger and Danny Devito).

Anyway, worth a second look.

And, apparently, the kids did NOT grow up to be freaks, which is nice.
Weirdly, this is the only cap I could find of the cute Gettysburg thing.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

This is more of a bookmark: I didn’t actually get to see this. We trundled off to the theater to catch this “first” Ghibli film, which (deep breath) is Hayao Miyazaki’s second film (after Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro) and an independent film produced by Isao Takahata, but which was made before Ghibli was actually formed.

After a few (fun) shorts, the movie started and…there were no subtitles. Apparently, the first lines spoken are gibberish so, no worries. But then…nope.

Our Japanese is a bit rough so we got a manager and they fooled around for a while and restarted and…no subtitles. Then they tried again with the dub, and that was fine (the Flower generally prefers dubs so she can focus on the visuals) but…the top and bottom were cut off. We tried watching for a few minutes but The Flower and the Boy’s Girl were starting to get uncomfortable with that, and I found it completely unwatchable.

So we adjourned. The kids went back on Wednesday to see the film but I couldn’t make it. They didn’t like it as much as Lupin, though they thought it was pretty good. The five minutes I saw (three times) looked a whole lot like they were inspired by Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards.

(I couldn't find a good screenshot from the actual film.)
From Roman Dubina on DeviantArt.

After this we would get the first Ghibli film, Castle In The Sky.

Kong: Skull Island

I dragged The Boy along to see this one. (The Barbarienne was an enthusiastic accomplice to my kaiju venture.) I never really got into the giant monster movies as a kid. King Kong aside, which of course I loved—along with any Harryhausen—I found them dumb and boring. (Although, I had a bit of a soft spot for Rodan and Mothra.) But if you take the kaiju movie for what it is it can be pretty entertaining, as we saw with the recent Godzilla flick, or Pacific Rim.

What? He's a big man.
Casting John Goodman as a Kaiju was a natural choice.

I didn’t stay to the end of the movie so I missed the (now obvious) tie-in to a kind of “Kaiju Cinematic Universe”, doubtless a bunch of planned CGI-extravaganzas centered around the classic Toho monsters and America’s only major contribution to the genre, RKO’s King Kong. (I don’t think anyone’s pining for the 50 foot woman or the Amazing Colossal Man or, I don’t know, the big ants from Them!)

But the movie stands on its own just fine. It takes place at the end of the Vietnam war and is laden with some of the most awful and egregious Vietnam war movie clichés you can imagine—which, actually, didn’t bug me. They were cheesy and out of place and get so ridiculously over the top with the help of Samuel L. Jackson (who’s no more believable as a general than he is a highly trained international assassin), who the script uses to tease every opportunity to present a differing viewpoint in a reasonable way only to utterly abandon any sense of humanity or decency by the end of the film.

Kong’s not the real monster here, guys. It’s the US military, top to bottom.

I should be offended, or maybe somebody should be, but at this point it’s like most movies are telling urban legends around a campfire when it comes to anything related to the US military and especially the Vietnam War. It’s like the Gravediggers Guild being upset by tales of “Burke and Hare”, or barbers getting upset over “Sweeney Todd”. It’s just so removed from anything like reality at this point, that it’s just a dumb trope.

I'm slurring apes with this kind of talk.
Saigon. Kong not believe he still in Saigon.

The story, as I recall it, is that a bunch of contemporary (early ’70s) soldiers/journalists investigate a mysterious island which is surrounded by a treacherous weather pattern that both hides it and keeps outsiders away. A mission to the island (for nebulous reasons) reveals a lost WWII-era soldier (John C. Reilly), numerous forms of threatening fauna and flora, as well as a Kong (King). Crazy-eyed Jackson decides he needs to kill it, out of revenge and because he’s representing the US military. The others become increasingly aware of his instability and menace to both them and possibly the world as a whole.

Sure, you’ve seen it before. A lot. And you’ll see it again. And like it, see? At least sorta.

Basically, nicely done effects (a little strained in some of the earlier parts), some good action, some good character interaction greatly shored up by Reilly, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and a light touch by “Funny or Die” (seriously) alumnus Jordan Vogt-Roberts. He does a good job keeping it light without being snarky or snide, and giving his characters some gravitas without making them thespian funeral dirges. It’s good popcorn stuff.

Twitter pal The Dude (@WoodWhisperers) actually gave me a mini-master-class on the best generation of Kaiju films, and he views this movie as somewhat disappointing, in terms of lost opportunities. (And when someone knows their stuff, you gotta file that info for future research.) But for a bunch of amateurs (The Boy and the Barb), it was an okay time, and we would probably recommend it, if you’re not an expert and you might like a movie about a Giant Gorilla of Justice.

Commie what now?
Gratuitous Tian Jing to capture that sweet commie Yuan.

 

Baby Driver

One of the lines used in Edgar Wright’s new action/crime flick is lifted (credited) from Fight Club: “How’s that working out for you?” When TV’s Andy Levy reviewed the picture, he put the line in context:

Tyler Durden: Oh I get it, it’s very clever.
Narrator: Thank you.
Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.
Narrator: Great.
Tyler Durden: Keep it up then… Right up.

In Fight Club, it’s none-too-subtle dig at the Narrator’s use of “cute” and “snark” to avoid the implications of his own meaningless existence. Levy’s implication is not nearly so savage, I think. He’s pointing out that Wright is very clever and sometimes his movies can feel too clever.

My ears.
Firing a gun inside a closed car? Ow.

Which is a mild criticism, and one I might agree with, at least to the extent of feeling it was a bit over-hyped by critics. It’s fun. The Flower, The Boy, His Girl and I all agreed it was “pretty good”, which is fainter praise than it deserves, really. But let’s start from the beginning

Ansel Elgort (The Fault In Our Stars) plays “Baby”, a young man who drives for “Doc” (Kevin Spacey) on the various heists that he plans. Baby’s back story is that he was in an accident as a child, that killed both his abusive father and singing mother, and left him with tinnitus, so he uses music to drown out the ringing. (This movie might actually be somewhat annoying at points if you actually have tinnitus.) This contrivance allows Wright to string together action pieces with the specific songs Baby listens to while fleeing from crime scenes.

This is actually very strong: Wright has a great visual feel and the opening parts of the movie are near “silent”, in the sense of having minimal dialogue, and very well choreographed. From the campy direction of “Spaced” and the Shaun of the Dead, Wright has forged a style that’s distinctive and broader in tone than seen in the Cornetto Trilogy (ShaunHot Fuzz and The World’s End).

What the hell is that pink thing she's wearing?
Bad girl.

Anyway, Baby works for the bad guys because as a kid he stole Doc’s car, and doc has been making him “work it off” for the past several years. His step-father (C.J. Jones) doesn’t approve and, one imagines his potential girlfriend, the cute waitress at the local diner (Lily James, Cinderella), might not approve either. (Well, maybe a little.) Elgort and James are precious here, and one thing Wright does very well is handle their inherent cuteness with a level of finesse that keeps it from being cloying. I kept thinking I was going to end up disliking either or both but, nah.

Baby’s work means his colleague tend toward the psychotic, including Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Jon Bernthal (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Sicario), and sexy Mexican import Eiza González. The contrast between González and James is good: They’re both about the same age in real life (James is actually older) but Eiza’s dress and manner make her femme fatale material, whereas nearly 30 James looks like she’s fresh out of high school.

So good.
Good girl.

All these elements work toward a difficult (but relatively clear, morally speaking) set of choices for Baby, and the movie escalates the narrative in a “believable” fashion. I had a little trouble figuring out why Baby didn’t just bail in the middle of the third act—he’s given a lot of opportunities—but I think that he was afraid the rest of them would find him and kill him. I guess I needed a little more hand-holding there.

But as has been noted, especially by @JulesLaLaLand, Wright has a bit of an issue with his third acts. They tend to go a little nuts, and this one is no exception. It’s well done, but we all sort of thought the movie would have ended sooner (not that we objected to how it did end) and with the music and cars and the gunplay, etc., it almost feels like Wright lacks confidence in his own endings, so he amps the spectacle over the story.

I’m just guessing here. It’s a good movie, very good, and a lot of fun in a way movies are having trouble being these days. So big points for that.

Only more tattoos.
Every meeting I’ve ever been in.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

I’m not sure at what point I realized this, but The Hitman’s Bodyguard is essentially a modern take on the ’80s odd-couple/buddy-cop action genre. So, instead of two cops, one by the book and one a rebel who gets results, we have two high-level mercenaries, one who’s a hitman (Samuel L. Jackson in his least believable role since his computer hacking in Jurassic Park) and another who protects those who are likely hit targets (Ryan Reynolds, who The Flower thought was really fey at first).

That might not even be him.
Fey, you say?

This is a crowd-pleasing formula, though never a critic-pleasing one, since it essentially assumes the position that there is good and evil, and they can be delineated, if not easily. (Hence the 37/70 split on RT.) I would go so far as to say this film is under-rated, but I had literally zero expectations going in. (We wanted to see Baby Driver but we didn’t want to be late to Knott’s Scary Farm, so we opted for It, very reluctantly. Then the traffic was so bad, this was basically our only choice.)

The premise is that Darius Kincaid (Jackson) is a hitman who’s going to turn state’s evidence (whatever the international equivalent would be…states’ evidence?) on evil Belarussian prime minister (Gary Oldman, whom I didn’t actually recognize but just assumed was Gary Oldman because who else would you get for that role?) in order to save his foul-mouthed, murderous wife Sonia (Salma Hayek, spitting out paragraphs of dialogue like she’s in Dogma 2) . On the way to The Hague, the armored car carrying him is ambushed, in a scenario that Dairus is lampshading amusingly, leaving only him and one guard survivor, Amelia (Elodie Yung, who I guess is Elektra in the current Marvel TV thingies I don’t watch, but whom I last saw in 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

No, they're not. I don't know why that was ever a thing.
They’re the original odd couple!

Amelia goes to a nearby safehouse and contacts her ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) whom she bribes into taking custody of Darius. They split because of a job that Michael thinks Amelia betrayed him on. Meanwhile, his reaction to seeing Darius is to try to kill him, and vice-versa.

Through a variety of mishaps, this turns into a cross-country road-trip where they learn a little, laugh a little, love a little. You’ve seen it a thousand times before, you will most certainly see it again. The entertainment factor of something like this depends on a few things: Is the action good, is the dialogue enough to make the non-action scenes un-boring, and (in the trifecta) does the movie actually make you care about the characters.

Now, this stuff is pure cartoon. Reynolds is basically being Deadpool without the bodysuit. Jackson is being psycho-but-lovable Jackson, and his over-the-top relationship with Hayek is sweet and silly. So, if you can’t buy into the goofiness, you won’t enjoy this.

I like the bartender.
Love is, admittedly, kinda goofy.

If you can, it’s worth the two hours. It’s funny, weirdly romantic, and the action holds together pretty well until the final set piece which seemed a bit overloud and overlong. It also—as these movies must—delineates the idea of good vs. evil, in this case with Darius making Michael question whether or not he’s been on the right side, if he’s essentially protecting killers. The acting is good: Jackson is not believable as an international hit man, as noted earlier, but that’s not really important and he’s fun to watch. Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) directs the proceedings confidently and unapologetically.

The Boy, The Flower and I all enjoyed it, and we were in a good mood heading into Knott’s.

Eep.
That expression makes me think you wouldn’t want her as an ex.