I go “dark” for the week or so before my magazine is due at the printer each month, an absence prolonged this time around due to a computer nightmare last week (system crashed, lost half the issue, etc.) Mea culpa.
HARPER is one of these films I’d sort of casually heard of before, but no one had really pitched to me as a “must see” and so I never sought it out, despite the fact that it has a William Goldman script. Paul Newman plays – originality alert – a down-on-his-luck cop-turned-private dick in LA. He gets hired by a delightfully bitter Lauren Bacall to find her super-rich drunkard husband. Detective movie ensues.
In Adventures In The Screen Trade Goldman says that, by the time the movie was made in the mid-60’s, the detective procedural genre had pretty much been taken over by television. Harper does seem rather stuck in time – it’s very methodical, doesn’t take many stylistic risks, doesn’t hold any real surprises, etc. It’s a pretty solid detective film with a lively Paul Newman performance and a surprising turn by Robert Wagner, but even Goldman admits that people remember the opening scene (in which we see Harper go through his sad-but-funny morning routine) more than any other part. A few years later, Robert Altman would kick off his adaptation of The Long Goodbye (one of my all-time favorite films) by apeing this scene. The Long Goodbye, however, is the vastly superior film, obliterating the tired stylistic conventions that Harper adheres to while remaining, at heart, a classic detective story. I could go on for a few thousand words about the wonder of TLG (and did once in college) but there’s no time, no time. HARPER: B.
FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS is, thankfully, a return to form for the series after the disappointing Bender’s Big Score. Whereas the previous film favored a billion references to favorite moments from the series over, you know, humor, BEAST starts off strong and pretty much stays on track throughout the film. There’s not much to say here: you’re either a Futurama fan, or your not. If Bender’s Big Score scared you away – be not afraid. BEAST isn’t a classic, but it is solid. If you’ve never seen Futurama, go buy/rent the original series and get to this later on. ‘Nuff said. F:BBB – B.
CHARLIE BARTLETT was rather harshly received upon release last year, and at first it’s hard to understand why. The movie is funny, never boring, and has many clever moments. But it’s also too long, loses form in the last 1/3rd or so, doesn’t really present an at all realistic portrait of high school life, has a student population that feels like, well, a bunch of extras, treats prescription drug abuse rather lightly, etc. It has issues. As a message movie it just doesn’t work, and large chunks of the film are lesser versions of better movies (the worst offense being the repeated musical references to Harold and Maude). But is is ENTERTAINING? Absolutely! And that’s still my main concern when watching a film, so I forgive CB its flaws. The performances are uniformly terrific, and it will be interesting to see what Charlie himself, the quite talented Anton Yelchin, does as Chekov in the new Star Trek film. And if you need a Robert Downey Jr. fix, this film will do nicely. BARTLETT is a perfect rental film – you’ll be happy to have seen it, and thrilled that it didn’t cost you $10 bucks a person. CB – C+.
Lastly, we have JUMPER, another film greeted pretty severely by critics, particularly of the geek variety. I’ve not read the books and cannot speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation, but the movie really isn’t that bad. The effects are strong, the concept interesting, and Jaime Bell rules every scene he’s in. But there are definite issues. The problem isn’t so much Hayden Christensen, whose genre baggage a lot of people just can’t seem to shake. No, the biggest issue is the crap-tastic villian side of the movie – the Palladins. “Only God should have the power to be everywhere at once” yadda yadda yadda. (yawn.) We see too much of them to be this ill-informed as to why the hell they care so much about eliminating jumpers. Their motiviation, as scripted, just isn’t convincing, and a little work in this area would probably have significantly improved the film as a whole. And, oh yeah, the love interest bit is meek. Alas. But overall it seems like Doug Liman did was hired to do – set up a new franchise. And if anyone other than Hayden, with his aforementioned baggage, had been the lead, then the film arguably would have been more commercially successful. As it is, it’s not a bad genre rental. JUMPER: C+.