Romance

China Girl

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1987

Vestron Pictures

Directed by Abel Ferrara

Produced by Michael Nozik

Written by Nicholas St. John

Here’s a bit of advice for all you aspiring directors: if you’re going to have scenes in your movies where the main characters dance it’s a good idea to make sure that they do indeed know how to dance. I bring this up for two reasons.

One: there’s two scenes in CHINA GIRL where our protagonists, the teenage lovers Tony (Richard Panebianco) and Tye (Sari Chang) fall in love while dancing and their absolutely horrible dance moves look more like they’re having grand mal seizures than anything else. Especially during the scene where they’re dancing to Run DMC/Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” That scene should be edited out of the movie as it’s flat out embarrassing to watch the two actors flailing away and stumbling around without even close to being in time with the beat.

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Two: that’s the only complaint you’ll get from me about CHINA GIRL which in a lot of ways is my favorite of Abel Ferrara’s terrific films. Considering this is the director who gave us the magnificent “King of New York” and the utterly brilliant “Bad Lieutenant” that’s quite a statement, I know. But I have fond memories of seeing CHINA GIRL on 42end Street back in the 1980’s and when I learned it was on Netflix streaming I simply had to watch it again to see if it was as good as I remembered. I’m happy to say it was.

CHINA GIRL is basically a modern retelling of “Romeo And Juliet” with a heaping helping of “West Side Story” thrown in there for flavor. Tony is from Little Italy and Tye lives in Chinatown. Both of them have older siblings with connections to the organized crime groups of their respective nationalities. Tony’s brother Alby (James Russo) owns and runs a pizzeria but he has ties to the neighborhood Mafia boss Enrico Perito (Robert Miano) and has his own gang of small-time hoods. Tye’s brother Yung Gan (Russell Wong) is an up-and-comer in a Tong led by Gung Tu (James Hong) being groomed to move up higher in the organization.

The romance between Tony and Tye stirs up conflict between the two groups of young gangsters and leads to open warfare. Added to this is the activities of Yung’s cousin and second-in-command Tsu Shin (Joey Chin) Tsu is extorting money from Chinese restaurant owners located in Little Italy. This is a total violation of the agreement between the Mafia and the Tong to not encroach on each other’s territory. Tony and Tye are warned to stay away from each other but if they did that then we wouldn’t have much of a movie, would we? As the lovers make plans to have a future and life together, the fighting between Yung’s gang and Alby’s gang escalates to such a degree that Perito and Gung Tu join forces to put a stop to it. As Gung Tu puts it: “We must never allow ourselves to be divided by war… or to be interfered with by police investigations… all because a few reckless children cannot live within our tradition of our society. Our responsibility is to control our children.” And control them they do with hideously bloody disciplinary methods.

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And that’s the thing about CHINA GIRL; the two leads are sweet and likable but their romance isn’t as compelling or as interesting as the war between the Mafia and Tong gangs, the relationship between Yung and Tsu and the efforts of the big bosses to control the young hotheads who are trying to carve out a bigger piece of the criminal pie for themselves.

It also doesn’t help that all the acting powerhouses are the supporting characters who effortlessly hold our attention anytime they’re on screen. James Russo, Russell Wong, David Caruso, Robert Miano and James Hong are all solid, dependable professionals. And for me, among all these terrific actors and performances, Russell Wong walks away with the acting honors in this one. He has a great scene with absolutely no dialog where he strolls around his sister’s room, looking at all the posters of white actors and pop stars on her walls and examining the evidence on her desk of how completely she’s assimilated American culture and he says more with his body language and facial expressions than he could have with five pages of dialog. There’s another great scene he has with Joey Chin as they discuss the situation they’re in and it’s got real heart and emotion.

What else? The terrific location shooting in New York’s Little Italy and Chinatown which gives the movie such an authentic look and feel. At times CHINA GIRL looks and feels like a Martin Scorsese movie, that’s how solid the Little Italy scenes are. David Caruso’s supporting role as Alby’s psychotically racist sidekick.

So should you see CHINA GIRL? Absolutely. The energy of the acting from the marvelous supporting cast alone makes this a Must See as far as I’m concerned. Abel Ferrara is an outstanding director who knows how to tell a story with no wasted scenes or unnecessary padding. CHINA GIRL wasn’t a hit when in played in theaters back in 1987 and it didn’t find a home on any cable station like HBO or Showtime where many other movies of the 80’s found new life and were rescued from obscurity. But now that it’s available, don’t let this one get by you. If you have Netflix streaming, set aside time for CHINA GIRL. You won’t be disappointed.

89 Minutes

Rated R: And be warned that this is a movie made before Political Correctness so the racial slurs get thrown around freely. If you’re offended by that, then I suggest you give CHINA GIRL a pass. 

Solaris

2002

20th Century Fox

Written and Directed by Steven Soderberg

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau

Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem

I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch SOLARIS as it had been so long since I read the Stanislaw Lem novel that I remembered little of the plot and I’ve never seen the 1972 version directed by Andrei Tartakovsky.  But by the time it was finished I was highly impressed.  Here’s a science fiction movie that doesn’t have bug-eyed aliens trying to eat us or conquer us.  There’s no babble of technospeak to make us think the characters are smarter than us.  There’s no laser gun battles or huge action sequences.  Like “Gattaca” or “EXistenZ” the movie qualifies as genuine science fiction, telling a thoughtful, mature, intelligent story about the nature of love and humanity.  But it does it in such a spooky, unnerving fashion that SOLARIS could almost qualify as a haunted house movie in space.  Think of “2001: A Space Odyssey” crossed with “The Shining” That’s how I would sum up SOLARIS to someone who’s never seen it.

Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychologist who appears to be successful but the emptiness of his life is almost more than he can stand.  He is snapped out of his depression by a cryptic message from his best friend Dr. Gibarian (Ulrich Tuker) who is part of a scientific team conducting research on a space station orbiting the distant planet Solaris.  The scientists have stopped answering all transmissions and a security team dispatched to find out what happened simply disappeared shortly after arriving on the station.  The only clue as to what is going on is the message to Chris in which Gibarian begs him to come to Solaris.

Chris goes and finds that Gibarian along with most of the team is dead.  There are only two survivors: Dr. Helen Gordon (Viola Davis) who is paranoid and hostile.  Snow (Jeremy Davis) is more laid back and even seems maddeningly cheerful about the situation.  He’s got what I think is one of the most chilling lines in the movie: “I could tell you what’s happened here but I don’t think that would tell you what’s happened here.”  Chris finds trails of blood that start nowhere and end nowhere.  And there’s a little boy with large, serene eyes prowling around the station.  A little boy who has no business being there.  And soon, Chris discovers for himself the frightening secret of Solaris when he is visited by his hauntingly beautiful wife Rheya who committed suicide several years ago after a bitter argument with Chris.

Gordon and Snow have had their own visitors as well.  Gordon refuses to tell who came to see her but it terrified her so much that she has created a weapon that can destroy these apparitions.  But are they apparitions?  They can be touched.  They laugh and cry.  They appear to be completely and totally human.  So much so that Chris falls in love with Rheya all over again and clutches at this chance to save her.  Gordon is equally determined to destroy whatever it is Rheya may be.  The battle in this movie is between ideas and emotions, not massive space fleets but it’s no less exciting to watch.

The movie looks as if it could be taking place in the same universe as Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” especially the scenes on the space station which quickly takes on a really creepy life of its own.  There are scenes where Chris is walking through the station and can dimly hear laughter or faint weeping or soft moans coming from the further reaches of the station.  There’s a blood freezing moment where he wakes up and sees Rheya talking with the little boy.  He turns his head and there’s yet another Rheya sitting nearby.  And Gibarian comes back to talk to Chris.  Chris demands to know what Solaris wants and the apparition of Gibarian asks: “why do you assume that it has to want something?”

It’s this refusal on the part of writer/director Steve Soderberg to attribute any kind of human motive or behavior to the actions of Solaris that makes the movie.  Surely there has to be some reason why Solaris is creating these exact replicas but the reason is never explained to us or to Chris Kelvin.  Solaris is this gigantic ball of living matter whose intelligence is so far above human that trying to comprehend its motives might drive a man insane and indeed, by the end of the movie, you may be wondering if the last few scenes are indeed real or taking place in Chris Kelvin’s shattered mind.  The last fifteen minutes or so will most definitely make you think if you’ve found the previous hour and thirty minutes intriguing.

The acting is outstanding here, especially George Clooney.  He’s one of the most likeable actors working in film today and here he creates a character that is extremely vulnerable and believable.  This isn’t a chest-beating man of action but a professional explorer of the labyrinth of the human mind who finds himself caught in his own emotional and psychological maze and has no idea how to get out.  Jeremy Davis is a lot of fun as he gives his character all of these strange quirks and ways of phrasing his sentences that are quite entertaining and even creepy.  And this is the first movie I recall seeing Viola Davis in and was highly impressed with what I saw.  Miss Davis is one of those handful of actors who are excellent even if the movie they’re in is crappy.  Thankfully, SOLARIS isn’t one of those movies which makes it all the better.

SOLARIS is the real deal.  It’s not an action or horror movie in sci-fi drag.  It deals with issues of life, death, the human heart and the nature of reality in such an intelligently adult manner that I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  If you haven’t seen it I strongly urge you to do so.

PG-13

99 minutes

The Adjustment Bureau

2011

Universal Pictures

Directed and Screenplay written by George Nolfi

Produced by Chris Moore

Based on the short story “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick

There’s nothing I love better than being surprised by a movie.  I’ve seen so many for so many years that I admit I’ve gotten pretty cocky about being able to tell how most movies are going to go about thirty minutes in.  I’m happy to say that didn’t happen with THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.  How could I have guessed that a paranoid conspiracy thriller was just a disguise for a love story about the nature of free will?

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a politician from Brooklyn, NY running for the United States Senate.  He’s embraced by the public who love his youth, his energy and his boyish optimism.  None of that helps when an embarrassing incident from his past catches up with him and he loses the election.  It’s when he’s at this darkest moment that he meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) who’s hiding in a stall in the men’s room.  They hit it off to such an amazing degree that David is inspired to go out and give a concession speech that’s better than most victory speeches.

David goes to work for his campaign manager with an eye to make another Senate run a few years down the road and believe it or not, one day while riding the bus to work he sits right down next to Elise.  This despite the best efforts of a group of men who dress like Madison Avenue advertising executives led by Richardson (John Slattery).  They carry small black books whose pages are filled with complicated designs that shift and move on their own.  They have the ability to teleport great distances simply by walking through certain doorways.  They can influence and cause seemingly random events to occur.  They can read minds.  They make cryptic references to ‘The Plan’ and they seem extremely interested in keeping David away from Elise.  Indeed, they go so far as to explain to David who and what they are.

They work for The Adjustment Bureau and their job is to make sure that everybody’s life goes according to ‘The Plan’.  David asks if they’re angels.  “We prefer to think of ourselves as caseworkers.” replies Harry (Anthony Mackie) who is unusually sympathetic to David’s case.  He’s certainly an easier caseworker to deal with than Thompson (Terrence Stamp).  Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ he’s called in to deal with David’s case when despite every effort of The Adjustment Bureau, David keeps meeting Elise.  David’s screwing around with ‘The Plan’ as he and Elise were only supposed to meet once and never again.  And if David keeps on screwing around with ‘The Plan’ then Thompson is going to be forced to demonstrate to David exactly how he got his nickname…

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU really blindsided me in a good way.  I expected automatic weapons and car chases halfway through the movie.  Instead what I got was a really intelligent discussion between David and Thompson on the nature of free will and does mankind truly possess it or not.  Due to the acting power of Matt Damon and Terence Stamp it’s a discussion just as thrilling as any car chase.  Not that we don’t get a great chase where David learns how to use the doors himself and with Elise is pursued all over New York, trying to stay one step ahead of Thompson and The Adjustment Bureau.  It’s just that the whole point of the movie isn’t chases or explosions.  It’s about a man willing to defy forces greater than himself for True Love.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch “Mad Men” with a straight face after this movie since John Slattery looks as if he came right from the set of that TV show to do this movie.  He’s quietly amusing, playing Richardson as an overworked bureaucrat who just wants the paperwork to be straight.  Anthony Mackie has a pivotal role in the movie that he’s more than able to handle and it’s from his character that we get a lot of the information about The Adjustment Bureau and how it works.

But the movie wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.  Yeah, their Meet Cute is an eye-roller but given what is learned later on, it makes sense.  If the chemistry between them doesn’t work, it’s not going to sell the story.  Fortunately, it did for me.  Their courtship is sweet and simple.  It’s the outside forces trying to keep them apart that complicate things.  Matt Damon really is a wonderful actor.  He can do comedy and drama and he never appears to be working hard at either.  Emily Blunt I’ve enjoyed more in movies like “Sunshine Cleaning” “Boudica” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” but that’s not to say she isn’t good here.

So should you see THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU?  Absolutely.  It’s a remarkably smart movie with good, solid performances and a mind-bending premise solidly rooted in a love story where the protagonists truly deserve to be in love because of what they do, not just because the girl can crinkle her nose just so cutesy-poo or because the guy’s a hunk.  Highly recommended.

106 minutes

Rated PG-13

Blade Runner: The Theatrical Version

1982

Warner Bros.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Michael Deeley

Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples

Based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick

There’s a good reason why BLADE RUNNER is still hailed as a masterpiece of science fiction/neo-noir/detective pulp filmmaking today.  It’s just that good.  This is the movie; along with “Alien” released two years earlier defined the look and feel of science fiction movies for the next thirty years.  BLADE RUNNER is innovative in a lot of ways but most of all in the way it presented the future.  Of course, for us living in 2011 which isn’t so far away from the 2019 depicted in the movie we can get a chuckle at how far off the movie is in predicting where we would be.

But you look at the movie and what pulls you in is how lived in it looks.  This is no sterile “Logan’s Run” future where everything is clean and shiny.  This is a nasty future with dirt, grim, filth, machines that are made to be functional not pretty.  People wear real clothes with wrinkles that need to be washed.  There are billboards everywhere urging you to buy, buy, buy.  The streets are clogged with pedestrians that walk too fast who cuss at cars that honk at pedestrians who walk too slowly.  All the people don’t look pretty. In fact they look bored, worn down, used up, tired.  Kinda like the people you pass everyday on your way to and home from work, right?

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is enjoying his retirement.  Once an honored member of L.A.’s Blade Runner Squad, he got sick of it and quit.  You see, his job was killing.  Killing Replicants.  Genetically engineered humanoids created by The Tyrell Corporation as slave labor for Earth’s off-world colonies.  The Replicants are stronger, faster and smarter than humans.  In fact, The Tyrell Corporation claims that their new Nexus-6 models are “More Human Than Human”.  And maybe they are.  Six of them prove resourceful enough to make it back to Earth and Los Angeles.  Which is where the Blade Runners comes in.

Deckard is pressed back into service by his old boss Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) and Bryant’s brown-noser Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to hunt down and retire the Nexus-6 Replicants.  It won’t be easy as they’re the most advanced Replicant models.  And they are determined to get to their creator Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and find a way to extend their four-year life span.  Deckard has to navigate through a minefield of humans and Replicants, all with their own agenda and their own plans to discover the truth of what being human means.  At the end of this tangled road is Rachel (Sean Young) a Replicant who believes is human and puts her trust and love in Deckard.  A man who comes to question his own humanity as the line between Human and Replicant becomes more blurred in his relentless pursuit of his quarry.

I love BLADE RUNNER.  That’s the simplest and best way I can put it.  I saw it during its original theatrical run, loved it then and I still love it now.  Mostly because of the way that it depicts at the future by looking back.

Let me explain: even though BLADE RUNNER is a movie about the future, there are a lot of throwbacks to the past which make the movie look even more futuristic simply because we haven’t seen stuff like this in movies in a long time.  Rachel’s hair styles and clothing, inspired by Joan Crawford’s look of the 1930’s.  Deckard’s clothing and trenchcoat, inspired by private eyes of the 50’s.  The gritty, noir-ish look of the city with its rain-swept streets.   The reto-technology.   The multi-cultural look of the movie which implies that Los Angeles of the future is a Third World culture unto itself.

At the time this movie was made Harrison Ford was #1 at the box office.  And why not?  He was starring in two major movie franchises and he took the BLADE RUNNER job to expand his range.  And I think he pulled it off extremely well.  There’s a real Humphrey Bogart-ish quality to his performance in this one.  The role of Deckard is obviously meant to be a throwback to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and it works.  Again, the whole success of this movie lies in the setting and technology reaching to the future while the clothing, attitudes and style of filmmaking reaches to the past.  It an extraordinary melding of past and future that many films have tried to copy but only BLADE RUNNER captured and captured exceedingly well.

Sean Young quickly got a reputation in Hollywood as being exceeding difficult to work which hampered her from getting more work which is really a shame.  She’s astoundingly good in this movie and I again point to her Joan Crawford-influenced make-up, wardrobe and style of acting as to why.  Rutger Hauer steals the movie in terms of acting.  As Roy Batty his final speech has gone down in movie history.  And rightly so.  Few movie characters have died in such a memorable fashion as Roy Batty.  Daryl Hannah, Brion James and Joanna Cassidy all turn in strong performances as Replicants as well as William Sanderson as a genetic designer who considers Replicants his children.

So should you see BLADE RUNNER?  Chances are you already have.  At least one of the several versions available.  There’s a Director’s Cut.  A Final Director’s Cut.  An Ultimate Final Director’s Cut.  An Ultimate Platinum Final Director’s Cut and who knows how many others.  Last I heard there were seven versions available.  My recommendation?  Start with the Theatrical Version so you can see it the way we saw it back in 1982 and then go from there.  But any way you see BLADE RUNNER, by all means see it and enjoy it.

116 minutes

Rated: R

Phantom of The Paradise

1974

20th Century Fox

Written and Directed by Brian DePalma

Produced by Edward R. Pressman

Mention the name Brian DePalma and most people will probably cite him as the director of Hitchcockian style thrillers such as ‘Dressed To Kill’, ‘Blow Out’ or ‘Sisters’. I myself would be more apt to mention ‘The Untouchables’, ‘Scarface’ or his vastly underrated and overlooked Vietnam War movie, ‘Casualties of War’. And nobody would even dare bring up ‘Bonfires of The Vanities’ but very few would have his satirical horror rock musical PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE be the first title to come to mind. And I can understand why. It’s a movie unlike any other Brian DePalma had made up to that point and he never would again. In my research for this review I learned that apparently the only place this movie was a success was Canada and everyplace else was considered a major box office flop. And then ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ was released the year after and we all know what a cult phenomenon that became and so PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE became further eclipsed.

It’s a shame, though. For my money, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is the far better movie with a compelling story based on the Faust legend as well as ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ with a generous helping of ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ tossed in and done well with great energy and style. Everybody involved looks as if they’re having a great time and best of all; nobody’s taking themselves or the material too seriously. They know they’re making a satirical spoof of horror films and taking broadly generous pokes at the record industry but it’s all in fun. I’ve spoken to plenty of people who worship at the altar of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and have seen the movie more than a hundred times. I’ve seen it exactly twice and have no intention of ever seeing it again but I’ve seen PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE about five times and could cheerfully watch it another five times.

Swan (Paul Williams) is the hideously powerful creative genius behind Death Records, capable of influencing musical trends on a day-to-day basis. Swan can create rock stars and elevate them to godhood or destroy them and leave them broken with a frightening ease. Swan is searching for just the right music and singer for the opening of his music palace, The Paradise. He finds the music in a cantata written by Winslow Leach (William Finley) that is over 200 pages long and based on the Faust legend. Swan’s number one henchman Arnold Philbin (George Memmoli) goes to meet with Winslow and through a combination of generous flattery, heaping helpings of bovine excrement and just plain lying; he gets hold of Winslow’s cantata, promising that Swan will make him a star.

Hah. That’s a laugh. Swan takes the cantata, refuses to meet with Winslow and has him thrown out time and again from the Death Records building. But Winslow is persistent and during one of his efforts to get in and confront Swan, meets up with Phoenix (Jessica Harper) who has the most beautiful voice he’s ever heard. Swan finally has Winslow set up on a phony drug possession rap and sentenced to Sing Sing. Winslow is a broken man until he hears that his cantata is to be performed at the opening night of The Paradise by Swan’s cheesy 50’s doo-wop boy band, The Juicy Fruits. Winslow’s mind snaps and he goes berserk, escaping from Sing Sing and making it to the Death Records pressing factory where he tries to destroy the huge machine pressing out copies of the album.

(We Interrupt This Review For A Historical Footnote: Before there were CDs and MP3s there were these things called ‘albums’ that people used to listen to music on. They were made of vinyl and a device known as a turntable was used to play them. We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Review.)

Winslow’s head is caught inside the hot record pressing machine but he manages to get free.  Driven totally mad by physical and psychological pain he flees from pursuing police who chase him to The East River where he falls in and is presumed dead. No such luck. Soon, The Paradise is being haunted by a leather clad, caped figure wearing a silver bird-like mask who commits acts of murder and destruction, delaying the opening of The Paradise. It’s Winslow, of course. But he’s horribly deformed and his voice has been destroyed. And he won’t allow Swan to let anybody except Phoenix sing his music. Swan agrees to this and even makes a deal with Winslow (they sign a contract in blood) who agrees to rewrite his cantata for Phoenix. But Swan has other plans up his well-tailored sleeve…

From that short summary it sounds as if PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a straight up horror film and if it was told in a straight up and down manner, it would be. But DePalma tells the story in a loopy, freewheeling style with crazy camera angles, split screens, a jumbled up music score that has everything from doo-wop to heavy metal, drugs, orgies, outrageous violence and yes, a lot of laughs. It also manages to get in a hell of a lot of plot in its 97 minutes, which means that the movie is never slow, and never lags. There’s always something happening and the twists and turns the story takes ensures that your attention won’t be allowed to wander.

I like all the performances in this movie. This is probably the best acting job Paul Williams has ever done and he is obviously enjoying himself. Swan is a terrific villain who relishes being such an unprincipled bastard. Along with George Memmoli as Philbin, they make a great team. They go about their villainy with just a day-to-day attitude that it makes it seem almost reasonable that they do such horrible things to people.

William Finley is wonderfully sympathetic as Winslow Leach/The Phantom and never fails to make you feel the pain of his character. I like how after his transformation into The Phantom he takes on a definite superheroish flair, climbing over rooftops, swinging from ropes and such, racing down corridors with his huge cape billowing behind him. Gerrit Graham nearly steals the movie as the bitchy hard rocker Beef. Every time he appears on screen he’s doing something that left me sore with laughter, including the scene where he slips and falls on stage and is trying to get up but his two foot high platform shoes keep getting in the way.

But Jessica Harper is the real star of the movie. I think Jessica Harper is a marvelous actress and one of the world’s most gorgeous women and it shows here. The camera simply loves her and when she’s on screen you don’t want to take your eyes off of her. I can’t help but feel she’s been vastly underused in the movies. When she gets a meaty role in movies such as ‘My Favorite Year’ ‘Pennies From Heaven’ and ‘Suspira’ she’s magic. Wish I could say the same about her dancing. Just sit back and watch her dance in this movie. She makes Elaine Benes look like Tina Turner. I’m serious, folks. She’s that bad a dancer. But what the hell, her acting more than makes up for her two left feet and she gets to sing and that ain’t bad at all.

So should you see PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE? A lot of people are probably going to be turned off by the production values of the movie as it looks as if it were filmed on the smallest budget possible. The concert scenes look as if they were filmed in a high school auditorium and the attitudes of the characters is pure cheesy 70’s. The music score is done by Paul Williams and while it’s not memorable, it serves the needs of the story and the closing theme, “The Hell Of It” is probably the best song in the movie but I like the goofy opening song, “Goodbye, Eddie” as well. And Jessica Harper gets to sing two ballads that may not be show stoppers but they don’t suck, either… Hell, I’d watch Jessica Harper sing VCR instruction manuals without complaint.

So don’t let the movie’s 70’s production value stop you from checking it out. It’s done in a flamboyant visual style with an intriguing mix of the horror, musical, social satire and comedy genres and mixed very well in my opinion. One genre doesn’t dominate the others and the mix ensures that it’s not a boring movie. If you get The Fox Movie Channel on your cable/satellite provider, you’ll be sure to see the movie. Somebody in Programming there must be a fan of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE since it seems to get run there twice a month, usually after midnight on a Friday or Saturday which is really the best time to see the movie. But if you don’t go ahead and Netflix it. It doesn’t have the polish and sophistication of Brian DePalma’s later films but that’s part of its decidedly goofy charm.

97 minutes

Rated PG

Knight And Day

2010

20th Century Fox

Directed by James Mangold

Produced by Kathy Conrad and Steve Pink

Written by Patrick O’Neill

Is America’s great love affair with Tom Cruise over?  If you look at the numbers then you might be inclined to say ‘yes’.  KNIGHT AND DAY took in nowhere near as much as a Tom Cruise starring movie is supposed to make.  And especially when he’s teamed with Cameron Diaz who has that wonderful grin that somehow manages to be both gorgeous and goofy at the same time.  And both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz know how to play comedy and action well so what happened with this movie?

Was it because it hit the theaters at around the same time as “Killers” starring Ashton Kutcher and Catherine Heigl which was a movie that in the trailers looked extraordinarily similar to KNIGHT AND DAY?  Or is that the audience who grew up with Tom Cruise in the 80’s and 90’s have moved on and just don’t want to see him on screen anymore?

June Havens (Cameron Diaz) is trying to get back home to Boston in time to attend her sister’s wedding.  And she keeps bumping into this cute guy with a really engaging grin who introduces himself as Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) who hints that maybe she really shouldn’t get on the same flight with him.  But she’s got a pesky dress fitting she can’t miss and so she gets on the plane.

It never occurs to June to wonder why a flight she was told was overbooked not more than twenty minutes ago is now almost empty except for herself, Roy, the flight crew and half a dozen men who look as if they are not casual travelers.

It isn’t long before the men and the flight crew are revealed to be assassins after Roy.  In between killing them all and steering the plane to a crash landing, Roy explains that they were sent by his ex-partner Fitz (Peter Saarsgard) who has gone rogue.  Fitz is after The Zephyr, a perpetual energy battery.  Roy has The Zephyr and he’s trying to rescue Simon Feck (Royal Dano) the eccentric genius who created/invented The Zephyr.   The situation is complicated because Fitz has convinced his boss (Viola Davis) that it is Roy who’s the rogue and so Roy is on the run from both the bad guys and the good guys.

Roy gets June to Boston and she tries to resume her life but that’s impossible as Roy re-enters her life in spectacularly explosive fashion, rescuing her from CIA hit squads as well as hit men working for the world’s most dangerous arms dealer, Antonio Quintana (Jordi Molla).  And the two of them are off on a world-wide chase to save Simon, keep The Zephyr out of Fitz’s hands and clear Roy’s name.

I really wasn’t all that hot to see KNIGHT AND DAY in the theaters.  Not because I dislike Tom Cruise, who I think is actually a pretty good actor but it looked like just another summer action flick with heaping helpings of comedy and romance thrown into the mix.  And that is precisely what it is.  There’s nothing deep or innovative or even exceptional about KNIGHT AND DAY.  I suspect that it got made simply because Cruise and Diaz wanted to work together and Cruise wanted to make a light action movie after the heavy drama of “Valkyrie”.

Tom Cruise doesn’t even try to stretch his acting muscles in this one.  He falls back on his tried and true standards: smiles and charm.  And really, there’s nothing more he needs in a movie or in a role like this.  Cameron Diaz gets to do a little bit more with her character development during the course of the movie in a satisfying manner.  Their scenes together are full of cuteness and fun.  Even when they’re being shot at by a dozen guys with machine guns they manage to say cute fun things.  It’s that kind of movie.  There’s a nice little mysterious subplot involving an elderly couple Roy is keeping tabs on via a hand held device and the supporting actors go about their business competently and with skill.

If there was any major reason I wanted to watch this movie it’s because of the director, James Mangold who directed three of my favorite movies: “Copland” which he also wrote and is for my money the movie that Sylvester Stallone turned in an Academy Award worthy performance.  He also directed the criminally ignored “Identity” starring John Cusack.  And “3:10 To Yuma” with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale

As with “3:10 To Yuma” and in KNIGHT AND DAY he demonstrates that he’s a terrific action director.  I’d love to see him tackle a James Bond film someday. He knows how to keep the story moving so that we know who’s doing what and why.  And he understands that in the slam bang fight scenes it’s important that the audience be able to see who’s hitting who.  No shaky cam here.  There’s a number of impressive shootouts and chases including one that takes place during The Running of The Bulls in Pamplona that I really enjoyed.

So should you see KNIGHT AND DAY?  It’s by no means at all a Must See Movie unless you’re a confirmed Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz fan.  In which case you’ll probably seen it already.  Let me put it this way: I get emails from people all the time telling me I’m too hard on movies.  They say that they just want to turn off their brains and be entertained.  Well, here’s a movie that’s perfectly made for that purpose.  And it happened to catch me on a night when that’s all I wanted.  Your mileage may vary.

110 minutes

PG-13