Dirty Dozen, Part I

As I mentioned last time, I watched a lot of movies on planes last month. A dozen of them, in fact. Some of them I’d seen before, some of them I hadn’t, a couple of of them I wish I hadn’t after I watched them. You’re on planes for twenty hours one way, what else are you going to do?

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is something of a cult favorite, and when you’re only liked by cults, you know something’s wrong. Fifth Element was visually arresting but mediocre overall, and his Valerian doesn’t even have the visually arresting going for it. It killed a couple of hours, but that’s about all that can be said for it. (Frankly, the details are not worth getting into.) Not recommended unless you’re on a plane for fifteen hours and have nothing else to do.

War of Planet of Apes

I mentioned a few months ago that I saw a lot of movies as a kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s. In addition to spaghetti westerns, my dad loves science fiction. So we saw 2001, we saw The Andromeda Strain before dinosaurs made Michael Crichton a household name, we saw Silent Running.

And we saw apes. Lots and lots of apes. We saw planets of apes, we saw beneath those planets, we escaped from those planets, there were conquests on those planets, we battled for those planets. We saw them on the big screen, and we saw them when they made their way to the small screen. By the late-seventies I didn’t recognize Roddy McDowell unless he had on an ape mask.

With that kind of history, there wasn’t really a question of whether I would see the new trilogy. (We’re all going to pretend that the Burton/Wahlberg disaster doesn’t exist. Moviegoers certainly did.) The new trio of movies are prequels, telling us how things got to the state that Charlton Heston found himself in on the original. Fortunately, these prequels of a beloved (by my dad, at least) franchise fare much better than the Preequels That Must Not Be Named.

War of the Planet of the Apes is the last of the trilogy. It has a great bad guy in Woody Harrelson1, has apes and orangutans and monkeys and chimps and every other kind of simian, and they’re all eerily excellent. These are the kinds of special effects that can almost make you forget they’re effects. The apes are led, of course, by Andy Serkis’ Ceasar (like Roddy McDowell before him, we wouldn’t recognize Andy Serkis if we ran into him on the sidewalk). There’s some great action, some great interaction, both between the apes themselves and between the apes and humans (especially Harrelson), and the child version of Heston’s girlfriend is introduced to bring the franchise full-circle. Recommended, but you should watch the other two first.

Paper Moon

Peter Bogdanovich made a living in the 70’s making black-and-white movies of rural America. I’ve still never seen all of The Last Picture Show2, but I and everybody else I knew went to see Paper Moon when it came out.3 Ryan O’Neal is terrific as a small-time grifter, but the wonder then and now is his daughter Tatum’s performance. She is amazing as a nine-year old who turns out to be a more natural hustler than her movie dad (played by her real dad). It is as mesmerizing a performance as Haley Joel Osment would turn in twenty-five years later in Sixth Sense, but unlike Haley, she wasn’t cheated out of her Oscar. She remains the youngest to ever win a competitive Academy Award. Highly recommended.

Spiderman Homecoming

I am apparently one of the three or four people on the planet who actually liked the Toby McGuire Spiderman’s. The Andrew McCarthy ones belong in the bin with the Wahlberg ape movie. This is the MCU’s first Spiderman movie, and they did a great job — this is the first Spiderman movie that actually feels like the original comic. Tom Holland is the first to look (and almost be) young enough to play the title character, and he’s entirely believable as a high-schooler who hasn’t figured out girls or being Spiderman. He’s surrounded by a great cast, including baddie Michael Keaton and best friend Jacob Batalon. There’s plenty of humor (that’s actually funny), there’s plenty of action, there’s just the right amount of Tony Stark, and there are a couple of great reveals. One of the top five MCU movies4, definitely recommended.

Unbreakable

I’m old, so old I remember when M. Night Shyamalan made good movies. Unbreakable was the follow-up to his incredible debut in Sixth Sense, and while it doesn’t rise to quite those heights, it comes pretty close. Bruce Willis plays a man who slowly finds out he’s a lot healthier than he realized, Samuel L. Jackson is the much less healthy man who helps Bruce to his realization, and the whole thing is an origin story unlike any you’ve ever seen before.5 Deliberately paced, but highly recommended.

The Big Sick

As I said in that previous post, one of the nice things about movies on planes is that you sometimes get to see movies you wouldn’t otherwise watch, because airlines often have sanitized (PG-13) versions of R-rated movies. I’d heard a lot about The Big Sick the last few months, so I was interested to see it.

Billed as a romantic comedy based on Kumail Nanjani’s (Silicon Valley) real life experiences with his eventual wife (Emily Gordon, played by Zoe Kazan), it’s more of a half-romantic chuckle. The title is a lot more telling than I realized, so most of the movie is the guy interacting with the girl’s parents instead of the girl. Since the parents are Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, that portion (the majority) of the movie is better than it has any right to be. I didn’t find the guy (stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani, played by … Kumail Nanjiani) all that funny (his movie family, on the other hand…), I didn’t find him or Emily all that likeable, and there wasn’t much romance. Not bad, but not all that good, either. (And in addition to the above, it’s very R-rated language-wise; a couple of the scenes only had about 10% of the words make it through to the airline screen.)

You look as tired as I felt by the end of the flight, so we’ll get to the return-trip movies next time.

  1. In seemingly his fiftieth movie of the year (we’ll talk about him again a little later).
  2. I taped it off of TV a year or so ago, but lost interest after an hour.
  3. I had a friend who had us rolling on the floor with her pitch-perfect imitation of Madeline Kahn’s “bone structure” speech.
  4. 1. Ironman, 2. Avengers, 3. Winter Soldier, 4. Spiderman Homecoming, 5. Civil War.
  5. If that didn’t make a lot of sense to you, I’m being intentionally vague. See the movie.

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