My Week in Movies: Sept. 8-14

Casa de mi Padre (2012) File under Hit or Miss, but when it hits, it hits. This Funny or Die offshoot is, mercifully, far more than the one joke “Will Ferrell speaks Spanish all the time” movie it appeared to be, with enough absurd humor to keep it going into wildly demented corners. And it’s the weirdness that keeps it going; many of the jokes are a bit too obvious and the run time is a bit too long, but even when it’s not creating belly laughs, it’s being bizarre enough to stay amusing. (Meanwhile, there’s the first ninety seconds of this clip, which is the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time. The rest of the clip is admirably ballsy, too.)

Jack’s Back (1988) And now, a personal story: I was in college at the crest of the VHS wave and spent much of my senior year poring over L.A. Morse’s Video Trash & Treasures (both volumes, alas now out of print) in search of the best recommendations for my next visit to Video Spectrum (my favorite video store on Earth, alas now closed), where I could load up on their five-for-five specials. One such recommendation was Jack’s Back, an unassuming James Spader thriller from the late 80s, mainly notable for being the directorial debut of Rowdy Herrington, he of Road House fame. Neither Morse’s write-up nor the VHS jacket revealed much beyond a barebones set-up, something about the centennial of the Jack the Ripper murders, so I went in dead cold. Ninety minutes later, I was floored by a movie that doesn’t really bother with the Ripper hook because it’s too busy baking a phenomenal layer cake of mood, character, and surprise. Its twists floored me best, not because of their shock value, but because of the way Herrington (who also penned the script) uses those shocks to discombobulate the viewer. We’re played like a fiddle and spun like a top – leaving us in the perfect state of mind for this sort of thriller. The rest of the film is equally pitch perfect, most notably Spader’s complex performance, among the best in his career. Stumbling upon the film’s magic was one of those great movie revelation moments I love so dearly; that the film was (and still is) so underrated – practically unknown, in fact – led me to latch onto it even more tightly. This was a cult movie, and I was its cult. Years later, with my VHS copy long gone and no DVD to replace it (Paramount still hasn’t released it on disc Stateside, not even after the rise of the burn-on-demand industry helped salvage countless other long lost titles), I was delighted to discover Jack’s Back available for streaming on Netflix. And I was even more delighted to discover it’s still a spare, taut masterpiece with genuine thrills, one of the great thrillers of the 80s, one of my favorite thrillers of any decade.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013) Another DCU effort that’s good on individual beats but sloppy on the big picture because its abbreviated run time leaves it rushing through the important parts, and I’m so tired of making that complaint about these movies. Based on the Flashpoint comics, the film does a fine job crafting a fascinating alternate universe for the Super Friends, especially in terms of a gun-toting, semi-psychotic Batman. However, the emotional core of the center is skimmed over so haphazardly, the movie never delivers the kind of weight it could’ve had with just a little more attention paid to character and a little less paid to fight scenes and “Infinite Earths” gimmickry.

The World Is Not Enough (1999) I didn’t write one of these blog entries the week I watched Tomorrow Never Dies, so I’ll quickly say I wound up liking that movie even more than I had in a long while, its campy charms winning me over all over again. I’ve always liked the movie, but this time, I loved it as deeply as I did sixteen years ago. It helps that I’ve come to accept the fact that the Brosnan Bonds are pretty much Roger Moore Bonds with a 90s sheen slapped on. For Tomorrow, that wound up being a good thing; for The World Is Not Enough, not so much. Its problem isn’t the obvious (namely, a certain bit of miscasting), but instead an overall case of thinness. The plot is just too lightweight to fully matter, and its characters are too underdeveloped to carry us through. Sure, we get an appearance of complexity in Elektra King, but the screenplay ultimately doesn’t dig deeply into her character’s concept to find a second note for Sophie Marceau to play. Meanwhile, Robert Carlyle’s Renard isn’t given much of anything to do and winds up as rather forgettable. As with all Bonds, there’s plenty of fun and solid action throughout (the caviar factory sequence is superb, as is Robbie Coltrane’s return to the franchise), just not enough to lift this beyond the level of a second- (or possibly third-) tier franchise entry.

Mr. Lucky (1943) Speaking of lightweight plots, Mr. Lucky’s storyline – in which draft-dodging grifter Cary Grant tries to swindle a wartime charity, only to fall for the group’s leader – is wafer thin and quite predictable. But no matter, as the film is more concerned with the little moments the characters share, be they quirky, funny, or romantic. Grant’s roguish charm is dialed to eleven, keeping things moving with ease, while Laraine Day holds her own as the love interest.

The Hindenburg (1975) A most pleasant surprise. I was expecting a cheesy melodrama on par with other mid-70s disaster fare from Universal, but, as helmed by Robert Wise, The Hindenburg is instead a compelling speculative scenario in which sabotage takes down the mighty zeppelin. All the trappings of a disaster movie get delivered with restraint, which makes the subplots quite involving, especially George C. Scott’s conflicted security officer. Seeing the Hindenburg burn in widescreen (but not in color, a smart move that recreates the familiar newsreel footage) might deliver the genre’s promise of spectacle, but it’s the quieter stuff that works best. It’s ultimately a movie about both the unease of Americans who dealt with Nazis in an attempt at pre-war capitalism and the struggles of Germans who grew weary of the Third Reich. That angle lifts the film above crass blockbuster voyeurism, creating a tight drama centered on the political and the personal.

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