My Week in Movies: June 9-15

The Golden Child (1986) I hadn’t seen this Eddie Murphy adventure-comedy since its home video release twenty-five years ago. I can’t recall why I only watched it once; it seems now like the sort of thing I’d rewatch repeatedly in my youth, but The Golden Child missed the cut for reasons now lost to time. Also forgotten: pretty much everything about the movie, which meant it was like watching it new. I love getting these chances, these second first viewings, and for the most part, this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a weird companion piece to, of all things, Fletch, also directed by Michael Ritchie and also a basic action/mystery story with comedy grafted on in order to best make use of the star’s talents and sensibilities. The plot, a modern fantasy fueled by Asian mysticism, is strange enough, but then we get Murphy’s sarcasm slathered over every scene, a mix that would seem ill-fitting if it weren’t so funny. There are plenty of great one-liners and goofy moments throughout, at least until the third act, when the fantasy overtakes the comedy and it loses comic voice. But the fantasy is entertaining enough on its own, so while the movie never reaches the heights of Fletch (or, for that matter, Big Trouble in Little China, which has a similar tone), it works nicely enough.

Superman: Unbound (2013) I’m spending too much time wondering why it’s called Superman: Unbound and not Superman Unbound, especially since the title is fairly generic anyway and has nothing to do with the story itself, but anyway: punctuation matters. The movie deals up some of the goofier aspects of the Silver Age Superman mythology – namely, Supergirl, Brainiac, and Kandor – while managing to de-goofy them enough for the modern age. The screenplay (by Bob Goodman, adapting from comics by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank) manages to upgrade enough of the Kandor legend in a way that dials down the corniness while staying true to the original concepts; granted, we don’t need Brainiac beefed up into a muscle-beast (one of the film’s few missteps), but for the most part, it’s an earnest affair that finds some nice character beats amid the adventure. Unbound is genuinely interested in seeing Superman not just as a generic punching machine (although there’s plenty of punching, so much so the script makes mention of it in a nice moment where Braniac calls Supes “a fist”) but as a hero eager to use his brains as much as his brawn. Also: Matt Bomer voices Superman, which reminds me: Matt Bomer would make a good Superman. I wonder if the role is available.

Sneakers (1992) I sometimes feel a little silly whenever I declare Sneakers one of the best movies ever made. After all, it feels too small, too modest, too breezy a film when listed among the dramatic heft of Citizen Kane and Unforgiven, the epic grandeur of 2001 and Lawrence of Arabia, the super-sized adventure of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the classic polish of His Girl Friday and Rear Window. And yet here it is, this trifle of a caper comedy, one of the finest, most expertly made, most unceasingly entertaining of all movies. It’s certainly among the finest screenplays, an airtight jigsaw that’s also a master class in exposition (information other films would waste minutes unraveling is revealed here in a sentence, a word, a shot) and character relationships (the script allows its characters to speak in their own shorthand, which adds depth no lengthy backstory asides could ever match). Phil Alden Robinson directs with a visual flourish and a terrific knack for comic pacing, getting the most from a knock-out all-star cast. The lightheartedness carries us through the plot twists, spy thrills, and deeper philosophical debates (not only the obvious stuff about information and “the perception of reality,” but smaller ideas hidden in the nooks and crannies of the characters, stuff about Baby Boomers leaving their 1960s ideals behind, but not really) with expert precision, creating a vibe that’s addicting in its very movie-ness. More than just a cozy charmer or a minor action-comedy, Sneakers is popcorn perfection in every single frame.

Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981) I was unable to catch Man of Steel this weekend as planned (long story), but at least I got to catch up with some Christopher Reeve goodness. Still the best.

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