I didn’t see any movies for more than a week. However, the next week, I caught up with more. Going on vacation often means sightseeing during the day and re-watching movies on HBO in my hotel room. So I got to re-watch a few movies while watching a couple of new ones in theaters. Here are the movies I watched this past week:
Sister Act 2 (1993) – dir. Bill Duke
This movie does have some childhood nostalgia value from when I saw it as a kid enjoying the gospel soundtrack including great renditions of “Joyful, Joyful”, “His Eye is On the Sparrow”, and “Oh, Happy Day”. However, it is not a very good film. The first Sister Act failed to live up to the comic potential of its premise about a lounge singer, Dolores (Whoopi Goldberg), who is hidden in a convent under the witness protection program. After Dolores is accepted as a proper nun, this second one trades in on the old teacher-student clichés without a lot of heart, originality, and conflict in between. I have always thought that Hollywood never quite figured out how to exploit the unruly comic potential of Whoopi Goldberg and this one does not either. Pitting someone like her against a disorderly class could be interesting. However, the movie resolves that conflict way too quickly and conveniently in the first third of the movie (with the exception of one student played by Lauryn Hill). The actors playing them, which includes a few future (and some eventually faded) stars like Hill and Jennifer Love Hewitt, are certainly musically talented but the mediocre script does not give them much in the way of personalities to create a real class dynamic. I’ll still always enjoy the soundtrack for this movie including the closing finale of “Joyful, Joyful”.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) – dir. Len Wiseman
In the tradition of the 4th of July, this is probably as prime time as any to watch this fourth Die Hard movie. It is the last of the action film series that I enjoyed even though, as a computer programmer, I know that little of the techno terrorism set around Washington, DC makes any sense. What I look for in a Die Hard film is good action and the wise-cracking attitude and bravado of Bruce Willis as John McClane, who is still deep down a good cop. Many felt that the film was diluted by the language and violence being toned down for the film’s PG-13 rating but that was until the fifth film, A Good Day to Die Hard came out, which proved that having a higher R rating is not necessarily what captures the essence of a character. At least McClane is recognizable as McClane in this one, there is good chemistry between him and Justin Long as a hacker who aids him in his quest, and the action here is directed by Len Wiseman in a clean, crisp fashion so that we can follow it.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) – dir. Steven Spielberg
Aside from big action blockbusters, I sometimes have trouble trying to come up with a response when someone asks me for a suggestion of a light, entertaining film that is skillfully made. This film by Steven Spielberg, however, is one of the first movies that would come to my mind. It tells the kind of story that would only be told because it happened in real life. The main character, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio, in probably his last youthful role) is a teenager who became a con artist to impersonate a Pan Am pilot, a doctor from Harvard Medical School, and a lawyer, all while forging millions of dollars in checks. The movie could have been made into a serious crime story or, worse, have the story become an ungainly fit for the film’s breezy tone to become morally problematic, but it strikes a delicate balance to celebrate Abagnale’s brazen charm over his criminality. I also think of this as a very good Christmas film, as Abagnale and his FBI agent pursuer, Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) always talk to each other during Christmas, eventually building something resembling a father-son relationship. There is also a great supporting performance by Christopher Walken playing the actual father, Frank Abagnale, Sr.
Baby Driver (2017) – dir. Edgar Wright
This is probably the movie I most anticipated watching this summer and, while it is not the masterpiece I hoped it would be, it is still a very musically entertaining ride. Writer and director Edgar Wright always had the directorial knack for literally directing and editing his scenes with a musical beat (where scenes on set would be acted to the beat of the background music). Here, that approach takes center stage to turn this film really into a musical in some ways. All the action scenes are directed to be set to musical beats, whether it is the mix of screeching tires set to memorable 80s tunes or the timing of gunshots in a warehouse shootout. The directorial touch is also driven narratively by the central character, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who listens to music on his MP3 player to drown out his tinnitus with his music while working as a getaway driver for armed robberies. The movie is filled with good supporting performances from Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Hamm, who deliver clever speeches surrounding pop culture references from the music of the 80s to Monsters, Inc., sometimes even turning them into veiled threats. It is too bad that the overall crime story and character motivations turn out to be generic, predictable, and occasionally nonsensical, but the movie is still worthwhile for appreciating the musical direction.
The Mummy (2017) – dir. Alex Kurtzman
So I had already heard the terrible reviews for this film and I was hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as they said (Rotten Tomatoes has it at 15%). It wasn’t as bad but that also means it is not memorably bad. There are a couple of nice scenes like the realistic depiction of the plane crash that is shown heavily in the trailers. The issues, however, are numerous including how the points introduced in the story remain merely as plot points, disconnected and underdeveloped, and thus the jump scenes throughout the film do not add up to any scares. The plot lapses could be forgiven if the characters had some personality but they do not (and there are several points when I felt I had to really “guess” the character motivations). Tom Cruise may have had more substantial dramatic roles than Brendan Fraser from 1999’s The Mummy did, but Fraser had the goofy sense of bumbling and foolhardiness that would fit the adventure and Cruise is really too green for the role. Annabelle Wallis fares worse, as she is there to stop and spout plot exposition. Sofia Boutella as the titular mummy and Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll come off a little better, but even their more intense moments are sabotaged by the film’s failure to establish the rules of the premise very well. Overall, this will hardly work as a launch pad for Universal’s plan to launch the Dark Universe franchise, mainly because it is forgettable and without a personality.
Happy 4th of July!