Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s me jotting down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch: an expensive tale about Massive Explosions of the Oooold West; an epic from the end of China’s Warring States period; a World War II short story about the time they almost killed Hitler; and an animated sort-of adaptation of a famous novel about an honorary teen pirate.
In part one of our three-part miniseries, I reminisced about my least favorite theatrical experiences of 2012, works that other viewers may have liked a lot more than I did. Part two, then, is a veritable middle-ground parade — movies that weren’t a waste of my time, some even eligible for eventual addition to my library, but were a few steps removed from instant-classic status according to my recondite guidelines.
The countdown advances:
15. The Bourne Legacy. The way my mental math works out, this section of my list contains this year’s zestiest popcorn flicks — action yarns that propelled me along despite nagging storytelling flaws. Jeremy Renner’s two-hour overseas vacation video neatly fits that slot. Though the extended chases pale before the emotional stakes and the intricate cat-and-mouse games of the second and third Bourne chapters, Renner is fun to cheer on anyway as a plainspoken everyman upgraded to an outnumbered battle machine. In that sense it’s the spy-genre equivalent of a Rocky movie, albeit without a satisfying Ivan Drago analogue.
The short, spoiler-free version of my impression of Looper: the film is a knotty but ingenious cat-and-mouse thriller that moves from urban squalor to rural tranquility with an enviable dexterity while contemplating the effects of poor choices on our lives (our own as well as others’), the things we’ll sacrifice to stay true to our selfish nature, and what we’re willing to sacrifice if we think harder about what’s most important in the grand scheme. Other reviews have already noted the effectiveness of the makeup, the subtlety of the near-future visual designs, and the fun of watching Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing different versions of the same character. Consider those thoughts seconded here, since I can’t think of a good reason to retype them in my own redundant words.
However, I wouldn’t go so far as to grade it A+++++. I recognized more than a few moving parts from other films, albeit parts that are shuffled together skillfully, retooled for improved functionality, and kept as far removed from the trailers as possible.
Before proceeding, I brake here for COURTESY SPOILER ALERT for those who plan to see it but have been too busy or who avoid theaters. Now is your moment to escape for the sake of your future moviegoing experience, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
After seeing the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt flick Premium Rush tonight, I’ve realized that bicycles are the greatest machine ever. I should already know this after multiple viewings of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and my mastery of the old arcade game Paperboy, but those are old and Premium Rush is new. To today’s young folk that means it’s more influential than either of those works by definition.
Consider the pros of bicycle ownership that I’ve learned tonight:
* Bicycles use no gas. Not only does this save average consumers money, it means movies that replace all their cars with bikes will overflow with carbon credits or go-green points or whatever currency this market uses.
* Bicycles fit through tight cracks in traffic jams. Related note: traffic laws only apply if bicycle policemen can catch you. Don’t get too overconfident, since bikecops do have the power of teleportation, based on how many places our hero’s bikecop nemesis (stuntman Christopher Place) shows up in the movie through magical point-A-to-point-B locale shifts. That power only gets bikecops so far, though — their advanced age and lack of BMX tricks makes them an easily evaded adversary.
* Bicycle parts are sturdy and survive any and all forms of undue stress, short of a head-on collision. In that event, temporary replacement bikes should be readily available for borrowing from your immediate vicinity.
* Bicycles are much faster than cars. They can dodge and weave through the thickest of traffic, especially if you have the power of instant super-calculus like Amadeus Cho. If a crooked cop is several feet behind you, just pedal really hard. Sure. he could put his pedal to the metal and flatten you, but he won’t. For some reason. Mental block, maybe, who knows. One exception to this rule: when a finale is coming up, cars are faster because they have to catch up with you before the last big set piece begins. You can’t just arrive in time to save the day while the bad guy is still several blocks away because of rush hour or construction delays. No audience wants to cheer the defeat of a villain in absentia.
* Bicycle-related jobs never have a dress code. Our hero’s pride in avoiding nice suits and ties is a large part of Who He Is. (Our hero clearly learned nothing from Pee-Wee.) Late in the movie, a montage of assorted bicycling professionals confirms that clothing, hair care, and hygiene are left to the employee’s discretion. Hopefully they disinfect their packages before handing them to the intended recipient.
* The bad guys never try shooting you during chase scenes. You’re a small moving target, and they’re probably lousy shots anyway, even if they carry a gun for a living. This facet remains largely unexplored in Premium Rush, but in other chase movies, judging by the average number of missed shots per movie, I get the impression that crooked cops and evil military men never have to fret about marksmanship on their performance review.
* Bicycle lanes are optional. Over the past few years, Indianapolis has spent millions renovating and redesigning numerous thoroughfares to add bicycle lanes — sometime widening streets, sometimes taking an entire lane away from cars and designating it as a bicycle lane instead (White River Parkway North Drive, I’m looking in your excessively named direction). As seen in Premium Rush, Manhattan bicyclists seem to do just fine without them. The closest they come to compromising is when they have to share a walkway in Central Park with wheel-deprived pedestrians.
With so much going for bicycles, I foresee a day when filmmakers and studios revisit their works George-Lucas-style and decide it’s time to tamper with them for the sake of a modern audience. Imagine The French Connection with Popeye Doyle free-styling it up, or The Bourne Supremacy filmed in you-are-there Bicycle-Smashing-Cam. Stephen King’s Christine would have been about twenty minutes long, once the possessed 1957 Schwinn American realized it wasn’t really equipped to kill. Best of all in my mind would be the late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin — narrow chases through all those claustrophobic European streets, still at breakneck speeds, and everyone’s still armed with bazookas. The mind reels at the cinematic possibilities, so much so that I have to stop myself from staying up overnight and brainstorming any more. (Maybe that’s tomorrow night’s entry. No one tempt me.)
Setting all that aside, this was a fun, footloose, albeit PG-13-languaged 91 minutes’ worth of popcorn-movie excuse to watch Gordon-Levitt play the same kind of tenacious, hard-luck, unlikely hero that worked well for him in (500) Days of Summer, except here he’s not a jerk and he gets to win. It’s also a showcase for anyone who wants to know what Michael Shannon looks like, before he appears in next year’s Man of Steel. I didn’t see Revolutionary Road, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for what I read was a fairly tiny role, but here he dominates plenty of screen time as a foul-mouthed crooked cop (who naturally is the one to fill the movie’s one-F-word quota) with an amoral attitude and an unfortunate addiction to Pai gow. His tough New York sounds more like other movies than what we heard last year on vacation, but that only added to his scary intensity.
Other random, disconnected thoughts that flew through my head while watching the Greatest Bicycle Film of All Time:
* Fun geek note: Shannon continually hides behind the alias “Forrest J. Ackerman”, named after the famous sci-fi fan. (Yes, once upon a time, they used to have those. 105% of all sci-fi fans wish that were still the case.)
* Other than Gordon-Levitt and Shannon, the only other actor I recognized without research was Aasif Mandvi, my favorite correspondent in those rare moments when I have time to watch secondhand online clips from The Daily Show with John Stewart. Mandvi basically reprises his role as cranky boss Mr. Aziz from Spider-Man 2, but his presence is value-added good times.
* Listen carefully during one of Gordon-Levitt’s course-plotting moments, and you’ll be rewarded with a Wilhelm scream, to no small comedic effect.
* Do the kids these days still say “shred” in any bike-related context? It sounds like previous-decade slang.
* Gordon-Levitt’s motto, “Brakes are death,” sums up every bad commute I’ve ever harrumphed my way through.
* My favorite thing about the movie was recognizing Manhattan landmarks and locales that our family encountered on our 2011 road trip. Among the notable sights that nab screen time are Chinatown; Columbus Circle; a #1 subway station (the 116th Street Station, if the visuals match the story); the Ed Sullivan Theatre (blink and you miss it); Columbus Street alongside the Natural History Museum; and, of course, Central Park. Natives no doubt will recognize three times as many places as I did.
* No, there’s no scene after the end credits, but you can stick around and hear several more minutes of “Baba O’Riley” if you’d like. You can also recover from the shock of realizing that the entire movie flew right by without a single character using the phrase “need for speed.” Writing without that cliché in a movie all about speed may be its most skillful trick.
The Dark Knight Rises was a flawed but perfectly apt capper on Christopher Nolan’s Batman miniseries, a true trilogy in the sense that it’s an integral continuation of developments and themes from the first two films and wraps up loose ends we didn’t even realize were unraveled. Its marathon length was no deterrent to me, but some of its minutes could have been used to better effect.
The American upper class has now replaced other races and nations as Hollywood’s go-to nemesis du jour. We’ve already seen them criminalized in Tower Heist and countless other films whose titles I don’t feel like brainstorming right now. Trailers for two upcoming films show no sign of anyone giving that beleaguered minority a break this summer.
In the case of The Dark Knight Rises, the conflict will be a twisted case of evil-vs.-evil, if we infer correctly from previous trailers that Bane and his henchmen mean to bring the pain to the lives of the few remaining upper-crust Gothamites that didn’t already wisely evacuate to the suburbs after the city-wide calamities of the last two films. A new, sponsored trailer was released Monday that shows more of Bane and his plainclothes lackeys without revealing more details about how destroying a football field will in any way inconvenience the billionaires of Gotham, all sitting in their skyboxes above the tumult with easy access to their escape pods.
Other sites are busy scouring that video for clues to the true nature of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s enigmatic character. All I know is, if the success of TDKR means he’ll never have to return to the role of Cobra Commander, so much the better.
For those who would prefer to see stands taken through nonviolent means — stands that includes more women, non-whites, and colorful costumes — Step Up Revolution offers a viable, funky alternative:
The new girl in town shows off her moves, learns a very important lesson about performance art, then inspires her new flashmob friends to bust a move for social justice. I look forward to learning how this flagrant disruption of dull real estate negotiations will result in tense cinematic drama. Also, I’d love to see Bane try performing a one-handed Centipede.
You’ll note in both trailers the police are completely ineffective against the threats of grass-roots disobedience. If anything, it appears the Step Up cops will be persuaded to join the Occupy Solid Gold movement, unless we’re to believe that they’ve implemented krumping as a new form of riot control. I’d love to see Denis Leary as Arthur Stacy from the most recent Amazing Spider-Man trailer pay them a visit and compare notes.