Saturday, November 9, 2013

Movie Reviews-R.I.P.D, The Last Days On Mars, Guys and Dolls

directed by Robert Schwentke
Sometimes you can get fooled into watching a movie because you see some noticeable names in the cast and assume that well that must mean there's some minimal level of quality. That was certainly the case with me and the movie R.I.P.D. I foolishly thought that a film that had Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, and Mary Louise Parker in it would have no problem reaching a basic level of distinction. Well that was a mistake. Actors and actresses can go slumming and/or do things strictly for the paycheck or to repay a favor or simply to get their name out there just like the rest of us. The other reason I wanted to watch R.I.P.D. was that it was based on a graphic novel with which I wasn't familiar but had heard good things about. Hmm. Well if the movie was in any way faithful to the source material I no longer have any interest in reading the graphic novel. The only good thing about this movie from my perspective was watching the Sports Illustrated model turned actress Marisa Miller bounce around. Pulchritude alone couldn't save a really bad stupid movie. I'm glad I didn't see this in the theater and am seriously considering if I can get a refund from my cable company on the grounds that this movie really stunk.

R.I.P.D. appears to be a low rent ripoff of the Men in Black franchise with a shout out to Ghost. It's got the old grizzled cop with a strange name (Bridges) and the smart mouth young rookie (Reynolds).  Even though they don't much like each other they have to Overcome Their Differences To Save The World. When people die most of them go to heaven or hell. As with any rule though there are some exceptions. Some dead people, generally the ones who would have gone to hell, decide that they'd rather stay on earth. I mean earth is better than hell, right. And if you were going to heaven you wouldn't stick around on earth would you.

In order to fight these creatures, known as deaddos, Heaven or some other otherworldly bureaucracy, has formed the Rest in Peace Division (R.I.P.D.) which is made up of talented former cops who weren't quite the worst of the worst but weren't good enough to go immediately to heaven either. So in a sort of limbo, they get a chance to work off their sins and avoid going to hell, by capturing or destroying deaddos. The Boston division of this group is overseen by Captain Proctor (Mary Louise Parker). She explains all this to the newly dead Boston detective Nick Walker (Reynolds) and pairs him up with Old West Marshal Roycephus Pulsipher (Bridges). Off they go to Save The World which will involve stopping the nefarious plans of Nick's former partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) who murdered Nick, is putting the moves on Nick's widow and is apparently a deaddo. In order not to frighten their former loved ones or permit them to get attached to the world again, every R.I.P.D. officer is given an avatar, which is how normal humans see them. Bridges' avatar is Marisa Miller. Reynolds' is James Hong. Proctor evidently once had a thing with Roy, which he at least would like to restart. Skip this movie.

The Last Days On Mars
directed by Ruairi Robinson
Zombies in space. If this concept appeals, then this film might work well for you. It is the typical sci-fi/horror concept of putting people in an enclosed dangerous environment and having one of them get infected. So in that aspect it's quite similar to The Thing or Alien. I like these sorts of movies, especially when they're well done. This one is adequate. It's not necessarily a must see but there are worse ways to spend your time. It's believable for the most part which is more than I can say for a lot of films in this genre. There is an international manned excursion to Mars. This mission is coming to an end. The scientists have been on Mars for six months and are eager to be on their way back to Earth. They are irritable. They bicker with each other over minor issues. One of the scientists, a slimy fellow named Marko (Goran Kostic) manages to wheedle the mission captain Brunel (Elias Koteas) into letting him and another astronaut go back out onto the Mars surface after they are supposed to be preparing to leave. Marko lies and says that he didn't set a monitor properly. As the by the book captain doesn't want to hear it from his supervisors, he assents to the request.
This infuriates one of the other scientists Kim (Olivia Williams), who is a rival of well, just about everyone. She has already been shown to be a difficult woman when she was working with the mission second-in-command Vincent (Liev Schreiber) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Romola Garai). Kim correctly intuits that Marko is not exactly an altruistic or super responsible sort, perhaps because she isn't either, and hacks into his surveillance feed. It turns out that Marko is nowhere near his monitor. Instead he has gone to a canyon where he believes he's found evidence of viral or bacteriological life. He wants all the credit for himself. Unfortunately for Marko there's some kind of earthquake or rather marsquake and Marko is seemingly swallowed up in a newly opened crevice. When the team arrives they can't find Marko and don't have the proper equipment to bring back what could be Martian life. So they leave a team member there to look for Marko while they all go back to base. Well as you might guess one or more of the team is infected with this Martian life. The impact is to turn them into ravening zombies. And infection is easily passed to other humans.

Unlike The Thing there's not really a whole lot of paranoia if only because there's not a huge delay between the time of initial infection and the onset of ravening mad dog behavior. You don't have time to casually wonder, worry and fret as to who might be infected because you'll know soon enough. There are some desperate attempts to come up with a cure and worries about whether or not the party should even try to make it back to Earth. Obviously no one has any guns or other weapons. And getting caught outside with a damaged or broken suit is also an immediate death sentence. Mars has no breathable atmosphere and a much lower atmospheric pressure than is suitable for human life. As usual a few people do some stupid things to keep the story moving but that aside I still liked the film because it did capture the immense sadness of possibly dying alone on a planet that's anywhere from 34 million to 250 million miles away from Earth. The special effects and the reddish haze that one would expect from the Red Planet are well done. 

Guys and Dolls
directed by Joseph Mankiewicz
This is a droll fifties musical based on similarly humorous gangster tales by the writer Damon Runyan. In this world the gangsters are tough guys but they're really not bad guys. They might be bad boys though, which could of course explain why they're never lacking in feminine company. But there are no shootings, beatings, pimping, drug dealing, extortion, union racketeering or anything else like that. No in this milieu the extent of their crime is that they're gamblers. Other activities are either not mentioned or only very very obliquely referenced. The men in this film are tough guys with hearts of gold. This is an old school movie which in its way endorses very traditional ideas about marriage and gender roles. Where Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew featured a proto-feminist woman who refused to be married eventually coming to learn the joys of marriage and the wisdom of obeying her husband, Guys and Dolls comes to the same conclusion via its focus on men. Wild men, bachelors and players, must at the end learn to settle down, be responsible, sober and proper and learn to say "yes dear" to their new wives. Women are understood to "civilize" men and supposedly both genders are better off for it. In its way I suppose this film is really not all that different in source material and message from modern romantic comedies. There is a humorous "conflict" which, after some jokes and some soul searching, is solved so that everyone on both sides of the gender line wins. What could be better than that. And no one dressed as an overweight sassy black woman either. Go figure.
The dialogue, much of which was adapted from the stage version and the book, is really sharp, comic and often confrontational. Everyone is a wiseguy or a sharp dame. Obviously there's no profanity and no nudity though there are some depictions of showgirls in costume. 
Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) is a gambler who can't seem to find a spot to host his usual craps game. The heat is on from the cops, particularly the nasty and sarcastic Lieutenant Brannigan (Robert Keith) who has been eager to put Nathan away for good for quite some time. Most of Nathan's normal hosts have turned him down flat. Nathan finally finds someone to host his game but the fellow wants a much larger than normal hosting fee. In advance. This Nathan does not have. Nathan is also starting to hear it from his fiancee Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), who has become dissatisfied with their FOURTEEN YEAR engagement. She wants to get married immediately. She also wants Nathan to go straight. Nathan doesn't want to talk about either his future business or romantic plans, thank you very much.

Nathan runs into a similar soul, the dapper, debonair and INCREDIBLY self assured Sky Masterton.(Marlon Brando) It was odd to hear echoes of what I think of as the Godfather's voice emerging from a much younger man. Like Nathan, Sky is not exactly interested in settling down anytime soon. As he snidely notes: "I am not putting the knock on dolls. It's just that they are something to have around only when they come in handy. Like cough drops." Unlike Nathan, Sky CAN'T resist a bet. Knowing this and needing the seed money for his game, Nathan bets Sky that Sky (who considers himself a player par excellence) can't take a woman of Nathan's choosing to a dinner date in Havana. (The unspoken is also implied.) Sky agrees to the bet. Nathan chooses Sister Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) , an uptight, good-hearted leader at the local Save-A-Soul mission, who has also been getting on Nathan's nerves. Sarah preaches against vice, gambling and all that it includes. She's no fan of the sporting life. But her mission is empty as Nathan and his crew certainly aren't listening. If she can't get some people to come in to the mission and change their wicked ways, her supervisors will close down the mission. They don't think it's worth wasting time and resources on people who are inveterate sinners. Sister Sarah's also a little lonely. The predatory Sky soon finds a struggle between his desire to win the bet and protective or even much gentler emotions he didn't know he had.

This was from the golden age of Hollywood musicals and it shows. The sets and color are extravagant. People break out into song at just the right moment. Brando was placed into this movie because he was the up and coming star of the time but he also did his own singing and dancing. He wasn't too bad. The film is full of mugs with colorful names like Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Big Jule, Benny Southstreet, Society Max, Liver Lips Louie, and Harry the Horse. Everyone's got an angle to play but all in all these are well meaning people. It is interesting to watch a film made in the fifties which interprets characters from the twenties through the forties and yet realize that the more things change between men and women in the dance of life, the more things stay the same. The movie's predominant mood is one of light humor so if you're looking for that experience, here you are.

Well I used to be bad when I was a kid but ever since then I've gone straight as has been proved by my record. Thirty three arrests and no convictions!
-Big Jule

Luck Be A Lady Tonight    Adelaide's Lament  Adelaide

Original Film Trailer

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