In defense of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’

Nostalgia is quite the powerful force.
It can make you look back on the rough periods of your life with
whitewashed longing or convince that you still love something, even
if you know now that it’s crappy.

We all have them, those things we loved
as children that no matter how old we get, or how much smarter are
brains grow, we stubbornly refuse to believe is bad.

For me, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is
just one of those things. I first
saw the film when I was 11; my mom borrowed it from a coworker, and
in an unprecedented move, she let me and my sister stay up way past
our bedtimes so we could watch it.

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Backdraft

“Backdraft” has not aged well. Granted, it’s hard to say how well this movie was received when it opened (I’m going to date myself here, but when it hit theaters, I was nine), but it’s been almost twenty years, and what worked back then does not work anymore.

 

Now, that’s not to say it’s a horrible experience – my movie buddy and I have a fabulous time watching it, but it’s not a comedy; we were just having a good laugh at the movie’s expense.

 

“Backdraft,” directed by Ron Howard, is the story of two brothers, Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian (William Baldwin). Their dad was a firefighter who was killed in action when the boys were young, and the ‘family business’ both draws and repels them.

Stephen has become a bad-ass but reckless firefighter, while Brian dropped out of the academy earlier in his life, but at the beginning of the film has graduated and finds himself in the same firehouse as his estranged brother.

 

That’s a solid enough story, but then, in a nod to conventionality, the brothers must learn to work together to stop an killer arsonist on the loose.

Sigh. There’s also some other stuff that happens, the effects are pretty cool, but really, there is a bit too much story here to leave room for anything good. “Backdraft” could have been a compelling family drama with a firefighting/tragedy backdrop. Or it could have been a thrilling action picture about a hunt for a dastardly arsonist.

But instead of excelling in any one area, it went and failed at both; “Backdraft” limps to the finish, with every bit of its conventional storytelling weighing it down.

 

Backdraft” (1991)

Written by Gregory Widen

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring: Kurt Russell (Stephen)

William Baldwin (Brian)

“Exotica” revisited

“Exotica” is not the film you think it is.

 

If you look at the box art, or watched the trailer, you might come away thinking this is a dumb stripper movie. You could even be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing to see here because you’ve seen it all before.

 

Well, if that’s the movie you’re looking for, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

“Exotica,” written and directed by Atom Egoyan, is really more of a mystery. In the opening scenes, you’ll meet a shy pet-shop owner (Don McKellar), a jaded but emotional stripper (Mia Kirshner), a creepy but sad DJ (Elias Koteas) and a world-weary auditor (the stunning Bruce Greenwood).

Their relationships are unclear, their motivations hidden, but if you pay attention and let the movie unfold, this layered and moving drama will draw you in and not let go until it fades to black.

 

Really, I’ve got nothing more to say after that. It would be a crime to give more plot details away, and I could rail against the marketing team for eons over their mistreatment of such a fantastic piece of art. But I won’t; trust me, “Exotica” is worth your time. It’s even better the second time around.

 

Exotica” (1994)

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan

Starring: Bruce Greenwood (Frances)

Don McKellar (Thomas)

Mia Kirshner (Christina)

Elias Koteas (Eric)

One Hour Photo

One of the many reasons I don’t like horror films as much as other genres is how formulaic they are. Put a group of people in a tight space, release a monster, watch them die until one or sometimes two heroes emerge to quell the beast, at least until the sequel. Repeat until the franchise runs out of money.

 

It was an old formula when I was young, and it’s only gotten more irritating as time has gone on. At this point, even when one film shines (“28 Days Later”), I’ve basically given up on the genre. But like the sucker that I am, I can’t help going back when I hear good things about a film.

 

So, along comes this week’s film “One Hour Photo,” a “horror” film in the Hitchcock tradition from writer/director Mark Romanek, all suspense and build-up leading up to some horrific climax.

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The Secret in Their Eyes

Sometimes, certain directors can suck you in to watching anything. Sure, you probably haven’t heard of him, but Juan Jos Campanella is one of those directors for me.

I first saw his name attached to some episodes of my other favorite television show, but if you take a look at his filmography, that dude shows up everywhere, and every time I’ve watched a “Law and Order” episode and seen his name, I immediately perked up and paid attention to what I would otherwise ignore.

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The Descent

I am as guilty of this as the next critic, but I do think horror films get a bad rap.

Sure, the latest crop of films in that genre tends to be splatter-fests, mainly there to shock the audience with as much violence and gore as possible, but the genre still has a lot to offer.

“The Descent,” written and directed by Neil Marshall, curiously encompasses both the positive and negative attributes of a modern horror film.

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Pitch Black

Vin Diesel is an actor that I’ve never really had respect for as an actor (sorry Vin, although you sound like a cool guy). I once sat through a painful two hours watching “XXX,” and after that experience, I never wanted to see another movie with him in it.

But for reasons not worth going in to, I decided to shrug off the horrors of “XXX” and give “Pitch Black” a shot. I will probably never be persuaded that Diesel is an excellent actor, but here, he is perfectly cast as Richard Riddick, the sociopathic lead character who can see in the dark.

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Zodiac

In the late 1960s, a killer calling himself Zodiac claimed responsibility for a series of murders in Northern California; he taunted investigators with a series of codes and clues sent to newspapers and made threats against the public that mostly freaked people out.

While there were a good deal of suspects, Zodiac was never brought to justice.

In 2007, director David Fincher decided to make a movie about this bizarre and grisly crime story starring Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery, a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle; Mark Ruffalo as the lead Inspector David Toschi; and Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at the Chronicle (and if you pay attention to the credits, he wrote the book the movie is based on).

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Mystery Team

Remember last week, when I was talking about the appeal of low-brow comedies and how the really good ones can transcend their limited (or no) budget approaches?

“Mystery Team” does not fall in to that category.

I waited almost a full year to see this movie; I first heard about it at their Comic-Con panel last year, and it was sitting in my saved queue ever since then, with me eager and willing to watch more from the talented (and funny) Derrick Comedy group.

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Strange Days

“It the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – REM

That line perfectly sums up Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), the hero of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” (1995).

The title is not an exaggeration; the setting is the last few days of 1999 in a world gone mad; Los Angeles is essentially a police state, but since the whole world is a police state, no one really seems to notice.

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