Saturday, August 21, 2010

Movie rewind

When it comes to movies (and much of entertainment, for that matter), it becomes remarkable to observe how much time can pass since some were released into theaters. For example, it’s been 20 years (!) since “Home Alone” became the box-office champ of 1990 and launched the career of Macauley Culkin. I bet he thinks that was a really long time ago.
Still, I felt it was worth taking note of the passage of time in movies, and will periodically include a brief flashback review from releases in the current week of 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years ago. And no, these won’t always be fond looks back, as some dreck might have surfaced during these time periods. But don’t those deserve some attention too? After all, good, bad and in between all make up the cinematic landscape that we walk through.
So yeah, this feature is kind of arbitrary and a bit random. But then again, aren’t a lot of things in life? Ponder on that a moment, won’t you?
On that note, here’s the first look back for the third week of August.
This will cover 1985, 1995 and 2005.

“Better Off Dead” (PG-13) - This spring’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” reminded viewers of the early years of John Cusack’s career, when it was filled with teen-oriented comedies. This one was arguably his most popular during that ‘80s time period. It’s certainly an oft-quoted movie from the decade filled with obnoxious neighbors, clueless parents, stuck-up girlfriends and yes, a doggedly determined paperboy.
The film was written and directed by Savage Steve Holland, making his big-screen debut. (Oddly enough, Savage is without quotes on There’s probably a story behind that, but I’ll leave it a mystery here.) His movie making career largely dried up in the ‘80s, but still writes and directs TV from time to time.
Still, “Better Off Dead” has grown to have a cult following in the years since, after flopping at the box office. Cusack, who went on to make another film with Holland the following year (“One Crazy Summer”), has also managed to squeak out a career for himself. If anything, his return to comedy this year only reminded people how good he was in the ‘80s in the genre.
Grade: B+

“Mortal Combat” (PG-13) - Harken back to the days when video games were adapted into movies. Oh wait, that happens all the time now. Well, maybe harken back to when they were made into good movies. Well, that doesn’t apply here either. But they sure tried hard!
Actually, I don’t have any proof of that either. I remember spending many hours (days, weeks, etc.) playing that video game, trying all the different finishing moves. (Sub-Zero was my favorite, in case you were wondering. And I’m sure you were.) But I wouldn’t have ever imagined when whiling away my life with the game that it would translate into a good movie. Pity the filmmakers didn’t think the same thing.
Granted, it’s not terrible. It’s perfectly watchable and the special effects (for their time) are pretty good. It’s just that these characters didn’t have any real personality to begin with, beyond their fighting prowess. And the actors cast to play them (Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Sota, etc.) do nothing to change that perception. Director Paul W.S. Anderson has made a career out of being involved with movie adaptations of video games, including the fourth “Resident Evil” film coming out in September. But he’ll always look back fondly on this one, as it was his first. Well, fondly might be too kind of a word.
Grade: D+

“Red Eye” (PG-13) - A short, quick-moving thriller helmed by Wes Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream”), “Red Eye” is a high concept movie that is dependent upon pacing and the believability of its stars to succeed. Luckily, stars Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy are both up to the task, while Craven ratchets up the tension aboard an airplane – a classic confined space for a thriller. With Murphy a charmer at first, then cooly menacing later, the movie works best on board the plane, as he threatens to kill the father of hotel manager Lisa Reisert (McAdams), unless she helps him get access to assassinate a government official staying at her hotel.
The realism of the story begins to seep out as the action lands on the ground, with Lisa transforming a bit too much into an action heroine. But McAdams, whose star was on the rise with her role in “The Notebook,” demonstrates herself capable of considerably different material. And Murphy continued his summer of villainy, having portrayed the Scarecrow a couple of months earlier in “Batman Begins.”
Grade: B

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