Hidden Figures

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2016

Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/20th Century Fox

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Produced by Donna Gigliotto/Peter Chernin/Pharrell Williams/Jenno Topping/Theodore Melfi

Screenplay by Alison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi

Based on “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly

There are two stories of heroism running side-by-side in HIDDEN FIGURES. There’s the one we all know because it’s been so documented, told and re-told in so many ways (most memorably in 1983’s “The Right Stuff”) that it has become part of American legend. It’s the story of the 1960’s space race between America and Russia as NASA struggled to put a man in a spacecraft into orbit with the eventual goal of putting an American man on the moon before Russia.

Then there’s the other story that I myself had never heard of before in any way shape or form and I am just grateful that this story has at last been told. Because it’s just as much a heroic tale as that of those Project Mercury astronauts. In the 1960s, NASA did not as yet have electronic computers so they had to rely on women with extraordinary mathematical skills to calculate the data needed. These women were actually called “computers” and they were African-American.

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In 1962 the American space program is in trouble. Sputnik 1 has been successfully launched and is merrily orbiting the Earth. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is the director of the Space Task Group, the team primarily in charge of getting astronauts up into space. Hopefully without the rockets blowing up on the launch pad. Harrison is under a lot of pressure to get America into the space race in a big way and he needs someone who can do analytic geometry, do it quickly and do it right. The acting supervisor of the Colored Computers Group Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) says that there’s only one woman for the job; Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) who as a child was a mathematical prodigy, beginning college at the age of 15.

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Mathematical genius or not, Katherine is still a black woman in the Jim Crow South and as such is still looked at as being just that: a black woman. No more and no less. She can’t even drink coffee from the same pot as her co-workers and has to walk/run half a mile back to the building where she used to work to relieve herself as the building housing the Space Task group has no Colored restroom. Not to mention the harassment she has to deal with from her immediate supervisor Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) who gives her incomplete data, saying that she does not have the proper security clearances but yet he still expects her to make sense out of it and turn in accurate calculations.

Meanwhile, Dorothy engages in a battle of wills with her supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) who not only refuses to promote Dorothy but actively looks forward to the day when the technicians from IBM will finish installing an IBM 7090 that will replace Dorothy and her girls. But Dorothy has a trick up her sleeve: she’ll teach herself how to program the 7090. Their friend Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who is working on the space capsule itself correctly identifies a flaw in the heat shield which impresses her boss, Dr. Zielinski (Oleg Krupa) to the point that he demands she go to school at night to get an engineering degree so that she’ll be fully qualified to work on the project. Problem is that engineering schools are segregated. But every problem has a solution and Mary’s is that she will go to court and petition for her right to go to school.

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The three stories of how these women work together and separately to accomplish their goals, achieve their dreams and oh, yes…help put American astronauts into space is an incredibly fascinating one told with an astounding amount of heart. And as much as I cannot stand anything having to do with math, if you had told me I’d be on the edge of my seat worrying about the fate of mathematicians I’d have thought you had lost your mind. But thanks to exceptionally strong acting and solid directing, HIDDEN FIGURES does turn out to be quite suspenseful at times, even though we all know that the space program was eventually a success. But this isn’t that kind of movie. It’s the revealing of a secret part of what up until now I had always thought was one of the most well documented periods of American history.

The cast is top notch. Kevin Costner recognizes that he’s got a supporting role here and so stays in his place, only taking center stage in one or two pivotal scenes but then quietly stepping back to let the real stars of the movie continue to do their thing. A couple of people I know upon hearing that Taraji P. Henson was one of those stars said to me; “You mean Cookie from ‘Empire?’ Can she act?” Which told me that they didn’t know a thing about her because Taraji P. Henson demonstrated years ago that she can act very well indeed. My wife Patricia pointed out something to me that I didn’t notice but upon reflection of certain scenes I can see exactly what she’s talking about. When you see the movie (and you will see it) notice how skillfully Taraji uses her glasses as a prop to enhance, disguise, amplify and demonstrate her emotional moods. And we all know Octavia Spencer turns in Academy Award performances like she invented them so there’s no reason to even go there. But I will say look for one pivotal scene she’s in which I’m convinced is a homage to a very famous scene in “The Right Stuff.” And as in his TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” Jim Parsons plays a brilliant manchild who’s a dick. But this one is way meaner in spirit than Sheldon Cooper. It’s a nice change of pace for him. Kirsten Dunst really surprised me in this one and she makes a fine adversary for Octavia Spencer to spar with.

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But it’s Janelle Monae who walks off with the MVP title for this movie. She was clearly born to be an actress and she never steps one foot wrong the entire running time of the movie, easily holding her own with her far more experienced co-stars. She’s a joy to watch anytime she’s onscreen, the rapport between her, Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson genuine and uplifting. I don’t say this very often about a movie but I’m pleased and proud to be able to say this about HIDDEN FIGURES: everything you’ve heard about it is true and if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so at your earliest opportunity.

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Rated PG

127 Minutes

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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2014

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld and David Barron

Screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp

Based on characters created by Tom Clancy

About halfway through JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT I had the same feeling I did the first time I watched “Sneakers.” I felt like I was watching a really good “Mission: Impossible” movie. It’s a scene that involves Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) having to pretend he’s drunk so that he can slip away from the dinner he’s having with Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) a powerful financier who is manipulating Russian and Chinese investments in America to bring about a second Great Depression. Jack has to break into Cherevin’s high tech office to hack his computer and download important evidence. Jack’s boss, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) has a team of expert CIA spies backing Jack up and the plan involves Jack’s girlfriend Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) keeping Cherevin at the dinner table while Harper’s team has to pickpocket Cherevin’s security card, get it to Jack, get him in and out of the office and then return the card to Cherevin all without him knowing.

Sounds a lot like an episode of “Mission: Impossible” right? Jim Phelps and his team used to do stuff like this all the time. And that’s a large part of the problem with JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. A lot of it felt like stuff I had seen before. Not that it’s bad stuff. JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is a well-made movie. It’s just that it’s not all that exciting or shows us anything new we haven’t seen in a dozen other action thrillers.

It also didn’t exactly grab me that this movie isn’t based on any of the Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan but an origin story cooked up by screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp. Why in the world they felt that Jack Ryan needed an origin story is beyond me. When we first met Jack Ryan in 1990’s “The Hunt For Red October” the movie just threw us into the adventure and filled us in on Jack Ryan’s background if and when it was needed. This movie spends a considerable amount of time showing us Jack’s grief upon seeing the 9/11 attack on TV while he’s attending school in London and then his crippling injuries he receives in a helicopter crash while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan. It’s during his extensive rehab he meets the two most important people in his life; Cathy Muller who will be his wife and Thomas Harper who will be his boss and mentor as Jack goes to work for the CIA.

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Jack spends ten years working as a compliance officer on Wall Street but his real job for the CIA is to look for suspicious financial transactions that would indicated the financing of terrorist operations against the U.S. Jack does indeed find something strange about trillions of dollars being manipulated by the companies owned by Cherevin and he’s sent to Russia to check it out and see what’s going on. Harper believes that the missing money is tied into some activity at the UN, including a key vote that the Russian Federation lost.

Yawning yet? I wouldn’t blame you if you were. We’re not talking James Bond type of spying here or even Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt. The movie so far is essentially about bankers looking for money that other bankers are hiding. There’s nothing remotely exciting about Chris Pine repeatedly pointing at a computer screen and yelling excitedly; “There, there! See that?” and it’s a bunch of stock quotes.

In fact, there’s an assassination attempt on Jack’s life that makes no sense and I’m convinced was thrown in there simply because something has to happen to keep the audience interested in the plot. As is the terrorist attack thrown into the last twenty minutes of the movie in order that we have a car/motorcycle chase and a desperate race against time.

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Chris Pine is a very likeable actor and works his moneymaker off trying to bring Jack Ryan to life but he just can’t do it. I’ve always thought that the financial success of the two Jack Ryan movies starring Harrison Ford was due more to Harrison Ford being the world’s number one action movie star at that time than audiences wanting to see a new Jack Ryan adventure because Jack Ryan really isn’t all that interesting a character. He’s a desk jockey who crunches numbers. There’s a brief scene on a plane late in the movie where the script tries to impress us with how Jack can see complex patterns where others can’t while Cathy and Harper just stare at him in amazement but it comes far too late to make a real impact.

And it really is kind of a stretch for Jack, who has been working at a desk for ten years and by his own admission has had only three weeks of operational training can not only barehanded kill trained assassins but drive cars in high speed chases like Goggles Pisano. I mean, I can throw my suspension of disbelief out the window if needs be but I’ve got a problem with a screenplay that tries to have it both way. You either give me a Jack Ryan who’s just getting his feet wet in the world in international espionage and learning the skills he’ll need to do so or give me one who is a seasoned pro and knows what he’s doing. Jack switches back and forth between the two personas when the script needs him to be one or the other.

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Movies of this type are successful largely on the bad guy and in this, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT fails miserably. Kenneth Branagh’s Cherevin is no Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld which is what the character really needed to be and what the movie needed. Cherevin is a poor excuse for a movie villain and Branagh goes through the movie with that “Moose Und Skwirl” Russian accent I simply can’t take seriously.

What else? Keira Knightley looks gorgeous, as usual, but is wasted as Cathy spends most of her screen time nagging at Jack for no reason at all and she’s only in the story because there needs to be a damsel in distress. Kevin Costner does his usual professional job and looks as if he’s actually enjoying himself. Kenneth Branagh does double duty as director as again, he disappoints. I’ve seen “Thor” so I know that Branagh knows how to direct action scenes but here it looks as if he was trying to copy the fight scenes from the Jason Bourne movies directed by Paul Greengrass and that wasn’t a good stylistic choice at all.

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I guess by now you get the point that I didn’t like JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. It’s not so much I didn’t like it as I was disappointed. I always am when I see so much good talent used in such a lackluster movie that does not thrill me or make me glad I went to see it. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.

105 Minutes

PG-13

 

Man of Steel

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2013

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures/DC Entertainment

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Based on “Superman” created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Sooner or later it always comes down to real estate in a Superman movie, doesn’t it? I mean, in three of the previous Superman movies the plot revolved around extraordinary real estate schemes. And in MAN OF STEEL General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) plan for world conquest could be considered the ultimate form of gentrification. He intends to terraform Earth and make it uninhabitable for humans. But first he’s got to extract The Codex from the cells of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and resurrect the Kryptonian race. And it’s not that it’s a bad plan at all. I just wish it wasn’t such a slog to get to it.

MAN OF STEEL is yet another retelling of the origin of Superman, which we didn’t need. So I guess that’s why Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer threw in such unnecessary details such as: a Kryptonian civil war. Making Kal-El the literal savior of the Kryptonian race by having his cellular structure infused with The Codex which if I understand it correctly pretty much means that Kal-El’s cells contains billions of DNA sequences. Making General Zod and Kal-El’s dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe) best buds who have a falling out over this pesky civil war as Jor-El insists they don’t have time for this rubbish as Krypton is going to blow up any day now. The Krypton sequence is one of the best things about the movie. And not only because we see that Jor-El knows how to rumble, young man, rumble. The architecture, technology and costuming had me wishing that we could get a “World of Krypton” movie. This is the first Superman movie that actually made Krypton look like it would be a really cool place to live. If it wasn’t for the blowing up part that is.

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Okay, so you know the drill after that: Krypton blows up, Kal-El gets rocketed to Earth, found by kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent  (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. But then that’s when the plot goes into a whole other realm as we get scenes of Clark going walkabout, roaming the world, taking odd jobs and using his powers in secret to help out where he can. In between we have Lois Lane (Amy Adams) Colonel Hardy (Christopher Meloni) and Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) investigating an alien craft found in the Arctic that has a connection with Clark and ultimately leads her to Kansas.

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But here comes General Zod and his posse again, having been freed from The Phantom Zone when Krypton blew up. They’ve been wandering around the universe all this time and thanks to Clark’s fooling around, they come to Earth. Zod looks around and likes the property. He’ll take it. Clark has to convince Lt. General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) that he’s here for Truth, Justice and The American Way and they have to work together if they’re going to stop Zod.

I realize I’m being a little more flippant in this review than I usually am but that’s only because I wish MAN OF STEEL had been a little more flippant itself. This is a movie that takes itself way too seriously and moves ponderously from one drama drenched scene to another groaning under the weight of its own solemnity. It’s not a fun movie and there’s not a single moment where I felt like standing up and cheering when Superman flies in to save the day. Which is what I want to see when I go to a Superman movie.

There’s going to be plenty of Superman fans who are going to like this movie because they want their superhero movies to be stonefaced serious. Me, I think you can be serious and have some fun. Maybe I want too much, I dunno. I know that Superman fans desperately wanted to see a Superman movie with some action and him hitting things. Well, with a bunch of Kryptonian villains all with superpowers, there’s plenty of that. And the final throwdown between Superman and Zod will satisfy in the amount of sheer destructiveness. I myself don’t believe there’s a building left standing in Metropolis after the day the Kryptonians came to town.

I have no complaint with the acting at all. Especially Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon. Bravo, Mr. Shannon. I believe he’s one the best and most underrated actors working today. The guy’s Brando level good, trust me. And if you’re not familiar with his work then you need to be.

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As to what I didn’t like: so much added to the Superman origin story that I thought wasn’t needed was put in there simply so that audiences wouldn’t feel they were watching the same old same old. The fate of Jonathan Kent. The wonky direction by Zack Snyder in the fight sequences which really surprised me. In his past movies Snyder’s fight scene were really crisp, clean and well-choreographed, leaving no doubt as to who was getting hit and by whom. Here in MAN OF STEEL most of the fight scenes are just blurs going from one side of the screen to the other.  The ghost of Jor-El showing up just when he’s needed in places he has no business being. Superman’s resolution to the General Zod problem. I mean, I realize full well Zod left Superman with no choice but the Superman I know would have found another way.

And at the end of the day I suppose that’s really all it is. This isn’t a Superman I felt was my Superman. That’s not to say that he’s a bad Superman. He’s pretty good, in fact. Henry Cavill is a new Superman for a new generation and he does the character proud. But I’ll still stick with the 1978 model if that’s okay with you.

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143 minutes

PG-13

Silverado

1985

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by
Lawrence and Mark Kasdan
Written by Lawrence and Mark Kasdan

I absolutely love Westerns. Much as I love most genres of movies, if you gave me a choice between say, a Science Fiction and a Western or a 1940’s Murder Mystery and a Western or a Woody Allen comedy and a Western, 9 times out of ten I’ll take the Western. It’s a genre I grew up watching mainly because my parents were also in love with Westerns and one of my favorite childhood memories is when my father took me out to dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant and then we went to see “The Wild Bunch” And my personal list of My Favorite Ten Movies Of All Time includes not only “The Wild Bunch” but also “Once Upon A Time In The West” which I think is the greatest Western ever made.

By 1985, the Western was a dead genre as far as major theatrical films were concerned. Only Clint Eastwood has the necessary clout to get a Western made back then and nobody even wanted to take a try at one except for an ambitious writer/director named Lawrence Kasdan who was riding a wave of good fortune due to his screenplays for “Raiders of The Lost Ark” “The Empire Strikes Back” “The Return of The Jedi” and a couple of box office smash hits he wrote and directed: “Body Heat” and “The Big Chill”

Lawrence Kasdan and his brother Mark were major Western fans since they were kids and really wanted to make one.   Lawrence used every bit of clout he had to get the film approved and I’m glad he did because SILVERADO is a magnificently huge Super Western that looks, feels and sounds as if it had been made back in the great heyday of Westerns when guys like John Ford and Howard Hawks were doing their thing. The story is one that I’m pretty sure has every convention and set piece you can think of in a western: gunslingers, barroom brawls, homesteaders being run off their land, sneaky gamblers with derringers up their sleeves, crooked sheriffs, saloons, cattle stampedes, wagon trains, pretty widow ladies, outlaw hideouts, evil cattle barons, gunfights on Main Street at high noon.  The only thing lacking in SILVERADO is an Indian uprising but I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Kasdan could have found a way, he’d have had that in there as well.

Emmett (Scott Glenn) is making his way home after spending five years in prison for killing a man in self-defense. After successfully fighting off an ambush by four desperados trying to kill him, he meets up with Paden (Kevin Kline) who was robbed of his horse, ivory-handled guns, stylish all-black outfit complete with beloved silver banded hat and left to die in the desert. The two men hook up and after making a pit stop at an Army fort where Paden gets back his horse and runs into a pair of old buddies, Cobb (Brian Dennehy) and the psychotic Tyree (Jeff Fahey).  From there they go onto the town of Turley where Emmett’s goofy kid brother Jake (Kevin Costner) is going to be hanged come the morning. They take time to help keep Mal (Danny Glover) out of Sheriff Langston’s (John Cleese) jail and after Emmett and Paden bust Jake out of jail Mal returns the favor by using his sharpshooting skills with a Henry rifle to chase Sheriff Langston back to town.

The four heroes then proceed to have a wild series of adventures that include rescuing a wagon train of homesteaders stranded in the wilderness and taking on a band of thieves who have stolen the life savings of the wagon train. Mind you, all this happens before we’ve even gotten to the town of Silverado, which is being controlled by the ruthless cattle baron Ethan MacKendrick (Ray Baker) who has hired Paden’s old pal Cobb to be Silverado’s Sheriff. Cobb is harassing the homesteaders to leave and if they don’t they’re burned out and killed, like Mal’s parents. It isn’t long before the four friends are pulled apart by their own separate conflicts and loyalties but soon come to realize that if there is to be any justice in Silverado, they are the ones who will have to join back together and make it.

Now that’s the bare bones of the story but there’s a helluva lot of subplots going on because this is a mollyfoggin’ huge cast Kasdan is working with and each of his four leads are just that. They’re all leading men and Kasdan treats them that way.  Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner are all treated as equals in terms of skill, courage and respect. And each of the four leads have more than enough screen time to explore their motivations for having a stake in the future of Silverado.

Emmett and Jake have a sister; brother-in-law and a nephew who thinks his gunslinging uncles are just the coolest. Mal’s parents were homesteaders who were run off their land and murdered while his sister Rae (Lynn Whitfield) has willingly become a prostitute in town, hooked up with the local gambler, Slick Calvin Stanhope (Jeff Goldblum). Paden is torn between his loyalties toward his old friend Cobb and the wild life he used to lead and his new friends who are men of honor and respect.  His growing friendship for Stella The Midnight Star (Linda Hunt), Cobb’s partner in the town’s largest saloon and prostitution emporium is also a large factor in his eventual decision.

And both Paden and Emmett have a stake in what happens to the homesteaders as they’re both attracted to the extremely pretty and recently widowed Hannah (Roseanne Arquette) who likes the both of them a whole lot and is grateful to them but makes it perfectly clear that men who tell her she’s pretty come along every day. She’s looking for a man willing to help her work the land, make things grow and build a stable life.

Like I said, you would think that with this many subplots, characters and settings that SILVERADO would be a confused mess but nothing could be further from the truth.  The first half of the movie is a road trip in which we’re introduced to most of the characters so that by the time the wagon train, along with Emmett, Jake, Paden and Mal arrives in Silverado, we already feel as if we’ve been on the trail with these guys and feel comfortable with what’s going on. And once they reach the town itself, the rest of the characters are integrated smoothly into what we already know. It’s a remarkable job of writing and directing that shows that you can have a large cast and multiple storylines and not have the movie feel crowded or rushed.

The acting in this movie is top-notch. I don’t think I can remember right now a movie with this large a cast who were all so good. Scott Glenn and Kevin Kline are at the top of the list with performances that I believe they based on Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn, both of who made more than their share of notable westerns. Kevin Costner’s Jake is a goofy daredevil who is the best horseman and gunman out the four but who tends to get into trouble for kissing the wrong girls. Danny Glover’s Mal is not portrayed here as a sidekick to his three white co-stars but is a hero in his own right and I really liked his scenes with Kevin Costner’s Jake and in those few scenes they had a real rapport together that made me wish they had a few more together.

Now you all know how I love movies that have bad guys who love being bad and this movie is chock fulla them, led by Brian Dennehy’s Cobb who goes through the whole movie grinning from ear to ear behind a bristling white beard. The secret to any good bad guy is this: he doesn’t think he’s the bad guy and Brian Dennehy must understand that because Cobb is extremely likeable. Sure he burns out innocent families and kidnaps kids and murders without a second thought but he’s just such a damn nice guy while he’s doing it.

Jeff Goldblum is a real surprise. As the gambler Slick he is dashingly elegant and even though he has only a few scenes he makes ‘em work. Linda Hunt as Stella absolutely steals every scene she’s in and the relationship between her character and Kevin Kline’s is really sweet and feels genuine.  Who else is good? Joe Seneca. Earl Hindman. Pepe Serna. Brion James. James Gammon. And that beautiful musical score by Bruce Broughton is just perfect.

If you’ve seen SILVERADO then you’re probably a fan of it and if you aren’t, I urge you to go back and see it again in a new light. It’s the Western I recommend to people who claim they don’t like Westerns and after they see it most of ‘em come back to me and say that, yeah, they liked it a whole lot. Know why? Because at it’s heart SILVERADO is about four gun-slinging, hard-ridin’, two-fisted heroes riding from town to town having adventures and bringing justice to The Old West and if you can’t find it in your heart to like that then I’m sorry, amigo, you just ain’t got no heart.

127 min
Rated PG13

Waterworld

1995
Universal Pictures

Directed by Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner (uncredited)
Produced by Kevin Costner, John Davis, Charles Gordon and Lawrence Gordon
Written by David Twohy

For those of you who don’t know me all that well you should know that I like to write a bit. And as a writer whenever I write a story I like to present the main character doing whatever it is they do best so that you as a reader know who they are and what they do right off. So if my main character is a teacher, the first scene they’re in is them teaching. If they’re a hotdog vendor the first scene they’re in is them serving a hotdog to a customer. If they’re a serial killer, the first scene they’re in is them…well, I think you get my meaning by now. So as a writer it didn’t instill me with a lot of confidence that the first scene of WATERWORLD has the main character peeing into a cup, recycling his own urine and then drinking it with lip-smacking gusto. I mean, that’s not exactly the best way to start off a post-apocalyptic action-adventure film. But that’s just me. And once you get past that scene, WATERWORLD is an okay time-waster. It’s no Academy Award winner but neither does it deserve the reputation it’s unfairly gotten as a terrible movie. It’s actually pretty good for what it is.

Sometime in the future the Earth is almost completely covered by water due to the polar ice caps melting. We’re never told why but we can assume that global warming is the culprit. Never mind that in order to so completely cover the entire planet with water would take more meting of ice that currently exists. Mankind lives on the water, in boats or on artificial islands called atolls. The Mariner (Kevin Costner) is a Trader, roaming the vast seas on his trimaran which as we see later on the movie is so tricked out with hidden weapons and gimmicks it qualifies as an aquatic version of The Batmobile.

 

He’s also an Ichthyosapien, a mutant with gills and webbed feet, able to breathe underwater. He shows up at an atoll with a bucket full of dry dirt. In this future time, dirt is more valuable and precious than gold (there’s a scene where a character eats a handful of dirt and apparently has an orgasm) His intention is just to trade but once he’s outed as a mutant he’s thrown into a cage and sentenced to death. Fortunately for him, The Deacon (Dennis Hopper) and his band of Smokers chose to attack the atoll. They’re called Smokers because they all constantly smoke cigarettes and they use vehicles that require fuel and give off clouds of black smoke. The Mariner is freed from his cage by Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Enola (Tina Majorino) a little girl who has an odd tattoo on her back. It turns out that both Helen and The Deacon believe that the tattoo is a map that will lead to Dryland, which most inhabitants of Waterworld believe is a myth. Helen thinks that The Mariner has been to Dryland since nobody has ever seen anybody with so much dry dirt at one time.

The Mariner, Helen and Enola escape the attack on the atoll and set off to find Dryland for themselves with The Deacon and his band of Smokers in hot pursuit. And that’s about it. Considering the lengthy running time of the movie (136 minutes for the theatrical version and 176 minutes for The Director’s Cut) that’s not a lot of plot or story there. WATERWORLD could have been told in half that time with no problem. But it’s an okay action/adventure movie I think. I always tell people that they should use critic’s reviews as a guideline for what movies they want to see and if I went by what critics say I’d have never seen WATERWORLD. I saw it in the theater during its original theatrical run and I saw it again just the other day and my opinion of it is still the same: it’s an okay movie. I think way too much was made of its budget and it was unfairly regarded as a financial flop.  But that’s for the accountants among you to salivate over. The rest of you want to hear about the movie itself.

I liked a lot of elements in WATERWORLD. It does a great job of convincing you that this story is taking place on a world covered by water. I myself love movies that show me a world I’ve never seen before and WATERWORLD succeeds on that level alone. Kevin Costner has done a better job of acting in other movies but he’s required to do nothing more here than be a stoic loner and he does it well. I loved his trimaran which for me qualifies as a character in its own right. There are several confrontations in the movie where The Mariner is up against The Smokers and it’s amazing how he handles his boat and the way it’s tricked out to enable him to fight them off or escape. I like Jeanne Tripplehorn a lot but I don’t like her character in this movie. I have constant arguments with people who say they hate Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott in “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” as they find her annoying but I say if you really want to see an annoying character then watch Jeanne Tripplehorn in this one. There’s several times when The Mariner threatens to throw her overboard and I was hoping he would do so.

Tina Majorino is a cute little package and its fun to watch her attempts to bond with The Mariner. And she has a great scene where she rattles one of the bad guys as she describes how The Mariner is going to rescue her and kill him. Dennis Hopper is always fun to watch and in this movie he does double duty: he’s not only the villain but he’s also the comedy relief as well and he’s more than up to the task of fulfilling both roles. His one-liners in this movie never fail to crack me up and I half suspect he ad-libbed most of them.

So should you see WATERWORLD? It’s usually dismissed as nothing more than an ocean-based remake of “The Road Warrior” and I can see that plainly. And for myself, I would have liked to have learned more about how people live on this world that’s covered by water where dirt and paper are treated the way we now treat gold and silver. But the whole concept of a world covered by water is simply there to hang on an action/adventure story that just as easily could have been told in The Old West or even in modern times. And the plot holes are big enough to make you scream: where do the Smokers get all their ammunition from? Their cigarettes? How do they process raw oil into gasoline to power their boats and jet skis? This isn’t a movie you watch if you expect answers to these questions. Instead, sit back and enjoy the spectacular action sequences. And they are spectacular. WATERWORLD is one of those movies where you watch and say; “how the hell did they film that?” It’s an okay action/adventure that doesn’t deserve the reputation it has.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie so much as that it’s longer than it really needs to be.

136 minutes
Rated PG-13