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Sunday, March 20, 2011


Title: Fanboys

Year of Release: 2008

Date Viewed: February 4th, 2011

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Three and a half decades ago, in the galaxy we're living in, a young filmmaker named George Lucas penned a script that would evolve into an iconic legacy. A year later, the Star Wars empire was born; a franchise that had enraptured one of the largest followings the pop culture world would ever see. It's not uncommon to meet fans that regard the movies so close to their identity that it has helped shape their personalities and influenced their daily philosophy. The most creative ones were inspired enough to create their own spinoffs and tributes to the franchise they adored.

Fanboys is one of the most affectionate celebrations of Star Wars geekdom to reach the mainstream and has made yours truly proud to be a part of it.

The movie's story is set in the fall of 1998, seven months before the release of the eagerly anticipated Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Eric Bottler (Sam Huntington) arrives at a Halloween party to pay a visit to his three high school friends whom he hadn't seen in a long while. Their universal love of Star Wars is what originally brought them together. But life's natural courses had drifted them apart. The brush of nostalgia turns sour when it's revealed to Eric that Linus (Chris Marquette) is facing terminal cancer and is estimated to have only four more months to live. Not long enough to see the new movie on its scheduled premiere date. Eric feels guilty over taking so long to reconcile with his friend. To make amends for it, he structures a plan to turn their childhood fantasy of infiltrating George Lucas' home into a reality. Getting their hands on an early print of The Phantom Menace is Linus' only hope of seeing what he had waited so long for. That part is difficult enough. But add car trouble, the police and psychotic Star Trek fans into the fray and it becomes an adventure.

If you have ever dreamed of owning a lightsaber or have used dialogue from the Star Wars movies in regular conversation, this is the perfect film for you. It's a nice reminder of how long lasting friendships can be instigated through a medium of entertainment. It can be fairly said that George Lucas is indirectly responsible for creating millions of social gatherings with many resulting in relationships that stretch much further than that. It brings back a personal memory of how I met someone because I overheard him mention the name Ric Flair. This inspired me to introduce myself to this fellow pro wrestling fan. Then we found more things that we had in common and our friendship grew stronger. It was the initial reference to what we had in common that made it all possible. Thanks, Ric.

It should be established that this is a tribute film made by the fans for the fans. Not just of Star Wars but cult followings in general. Outsiders are free to peek in but may find certain things to be lost on them, such as why Eric's comment "It's just a movie" is met with disdain. People who are already onboard with the idea will applaud at the numerous cameos by celebrities closely associated with cult followings. Their presence contribute some of the movie's best moments.

Although most of the characters are written to have a low IQ level, it never feels condescending to geek culture they represent. They may not have evolved much since high school but we are left with reason to believe they will mature in the unwritten epilogue.

The only real beef I have with the movie is the final line of dialogue. It was unnecessary and alienating to certain groups of its target audience. Out of place for something that promotes unity among peers.

Although shooting had wrapped in 2005, it took nearly three years for the movie to get a national release. The main reason for the delay was producer Harvey Weinstein's long-standing campaign for re-shoots and script revisions. Weinstein had a tone in mind that was different than what writers Adam Goldberg, Ernest Cline, and director Kyle Newman had envisioned. Most notably, he wanted all traces of the cancer subplot to be removed. In the end, the material stayed in the script. I was indifferent about the controversy up until I saw the completed film. It then became clear to me that if Weinstein had gotten his way, it would have been a travesty. The story would have lost its heart and then the project would have looked stupid and offensive. What also became clear at the moment was that the story is actually about friendship. Embarking on a journey with someone close to you is more rewarding than reaching the destination. The characters do not pick up on this lesson until the story's conclusion. When I did, I offered a grateful thanks to the friend that came to see this movie with me.

Rating: 8

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bad Boys

Title: Bad Boys

Year of Release: 1995

Date Viewed: February 4th, 2011

MPAA Rating: R

Time now to review another police story. This one is much less serious and virtually devoid of social commentary. Michael Bay's directing credit already gives that away.

Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith) are partnered detectives for the Miami Police Department. When a substantial amount of heroin is stolen from police headquarters, the two cops are assigned to track down the thieves and return the loot before the Internal Affairs Division gets involved in the case. If that happens, everyones jobs could be at risk.

Mike, the more charming of the pair, utilizes one of his human connections to track down any activities that involve large money transactions. His informant is a hooker named Maxine Logan (Karen Alexander). She stumbles upon a meeting between an infamous drug dealer and a former police officer. But before any information could be relayed to Lowery, Maxine is murdered. The event is witnessed by Julie Mott (Tea Leoni), Maxine's naive best friend who suddenly finds herself on the run with the mobsters on her trail. Julie knows about Mike but has no idea what he looks like. So she contacts police headquarters specifically requesting Mike, for she trusts no one else.

Mike is not readily available at the time of the call, so the socially awkward Marcus assumes his identity in order to get speedy cooperation from the frightened Julie. The policemen's inconveniently different personalities and off-the-clock lives make this ruse very challenging, but not nearly as hard as bringing the guilty party to justice.

Buddy-cop films are generally by the numbers. This one is especially formulaic because Michael Bay and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer enjoy making the same type of movies (and including non-subtle product placement). Nothing is really wrong with that, except those already familiar with the formula can predict the change in tone before each new act arrives. The plot is no laughing matter, but the characters are there to provide humor through their moments of incompetence. It works sometimes.

Not much is done in the way of character development. The hero cops are not treated much differently than their counterparts but seem to get away with wearing informal attire while on duty. Maybe the name Bad Boys comes from their reputation of ignoring the dress code?

Martin Lawrence does his usual shtick except during scenes when he's allowed to kick some butt. It's a little strange to see him overact his way to a laugh and then subdue criminals like a smart enforcer ten minutes later. Although I have a lot of respect for Will Smith with how he has managed his career in the long run, his acting is very green here. It was often hard to differentiate Mike Lowery from Smith's Fresh Prince character, so much that I was half-expecting a crossover that would have revealed them to be separated brothers. New episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel Air were still being produced at the time of this movie's release, so Smith's versatility wouldn't get to be recognized by the public eye until several years later. Tea Leoni does well with her job of playing the damsel in distress without annoyance.

The gags revolving around the cops covering their true identities are funny at first but wear thin before they run the course. What keeps Bad Boys watchable are the wisely placed chase and shootout sequences, complimented perfectly by Mark Mancina's pulse-pounding music score. As typical with Michael Bay, what he lacks in character development is usually made up for with fun popcorn entertainment. I didn't notice any continuity errors during these sequences probably because I was having a good time watching them.

Bad Boys interested me enough to plan for a time to watch the sequel and see if anything evolves. For now, it passes as good weekend entertainment.

Rating: 6

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dirty Harry

Title: Dirty Harry

Year of Release: 1971

Date Viewed: January 30th, 2011

MPAA Rating: R

For my father's Christmas gift, I had purchased the first four Dirty Harry films to add to his personal DVD collection. They fit in nicely with the stash of Clint Eastwood westerns and John Wayne classics. I sat down to watch the original Dirty Harry with him on the day he opened the package.

Clint Eastwood plays inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan, a veteran of the San Francisco police force and someone that can always be counted on to get things done. His cold personality limits his friends while maximizing productivity. Harry has seen it all. His advanced insight into criminal activity is demonstrated in an early scene where he predicts a bank robbery minutes before it happens. He doesn't even bother to call reinforcements. A firefight ensues. Then there is only one thief left alive. He's left to face a fate worse than death; Harry's psychological torture. The helpless thief can only watch as Harry points his gun towards him and delivers one of the most chilling and memorable speeches in cinema history.

"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

Harry delights in seeing the guilty punished. Especially if the result is stronger than what the justice system would typically provide. There is nothing he would love more than to capture the city's newest and most deadly menace it has ever seen, dead or alive. A mentally unstable individual that calls himself Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) is murdering random human targets from various rooftops with a sniper rifle. The killings will continue until a money demand is met.

From there, the story follows the typical cat-and-mouse, good versus evil, detective versus criminal routine that is all too familiar. But this movie is the reason that it's so familiar. Until this point, movie-goers have never been so enthralled by a policeman chasing a criminal with the latter behaving as evil as the devil himself. That's why so many movies have tried to copy the same formula. They crave the opportunity to have their audience cheer good conquering over evil. It's a money making formula.

For as wildly acclaimed as this film is, I must confess to being disappointed in its lack of technical prowess. The story is meant to be dark in nature, but director Don Siegel overcompensates the visual tone by shooting scenes with such dim lighting that it's often hard to judge where the characters are supposed to be located. Thankfully, many of the key scenes are set in daylight so it becomes less of a problem.

Before I know it, the movie ends and I prepare to type my review. I recognize its novelty and Clint Eastwood's brilliant performance. The role is so perfect for him that it's no challenge to see why he is so fondly remembered for it. Yet there was strong hesitation. Dirty Harry is considered a classic, yet I didn't understand why. Being the first of its kind is not enough to earn that title. It needs to hold itself up longer to be compared to modern films of a similar theme. Twenty minutes of outside research caused the epiphany to finally reach me. I had failed to see the big picture.

Five years prior to this film's release, the Miranda Rights have been implemented into U.S. law. These rights remain an important focal point on how criminals are arrested, detained and treated after arrest. This law has been met with controversy since it originated from a famous case known as Miranda versus Arizona where a man confessed to a kidnapping and rape charge. The confession led to a conviction. But it was later overturned because he was unaware of his rights to remain silent or consult legal counsel. As a result, the reading of the Miranda Rights is now required to be stated by all police officers upon the arrest of a suspect. It is widely believed that Miranda was guilty of the crime but found a legal loophole to get away with it.

A key scene in Dirty Harry shows the title character arresting the Scorpio killer. An enraged Harry detains him with punishment. This time it's physical rather than psychological. Harry shoots Scorpio, repeatedly beats him on the ground and steps on the wound. Questions are asked, but Scorpio refuses to cooperate until he sees a lawyer. This enrages Harry further and he continues the beating.

Scorpio is clearly a dangerous killer and must be held accountable for his crimes. But he never faces a jury. He is released because his home was searched without a warrant and his rights under arrest were violated. This information is revealed in a way that would anger every critic of the Miranda Rights and those with misgivings about a justice system that in their mind is already too protective of criminals.

Scorpio later takes another attempt at obtaining money through terror. He takes schoolchildren hostage and demands ransom money and a clean getaway. Harry is eager to confront his nemesis again but his superiors instead decide to give in to Scorpio's demands, deeming the situation too dangerous and fearing the children's lives would be in further danger if any deceptive actions happened. Finding this intolerable, Harry ignores orders and goes after Scorpio anyway. He saves the day. The children are safe. And this time, Scorpio has no chance of ever killing again. In the film's final moments, Harry throws away his police badge. The ultimate sign of his disgust with the justice system he no longer believes in. The argument presented here for less criminal rights and more old-fashioned law is a straw man case, but a convincing one nonetheless as evidenced by Dirty Harry's status of a cult hero. His way proved to be the best way in the end. Criminal rights be damned.

After reaching this conclusion, the "What If?" questions that I love to toy with came into play. What if Harry had not succeeded in detaining Scorpio the second time around? What if Scorpio had decided to kill the hostages when it became clear that he wouldn't be getting away easy? Would Harry still have been labeled a hero if he had failed in his mission? What if Harry had gone by the book from the very beginning? He may not have been able to save everybody, but at least Scorpio would have faced trial. Only one thing can be certain. If Harry could hear me pondering, I would have been scolded for even considering other options. In his mind, the accused are guilty until proven innocent. Justice is best left up to the field officers. Allowing a clean getaway for a criminal is never acceptable.

Bottom line. Harry knew what the book of law demanded. He gave it the middle finger. That's why they call him Dirty Harry.

Rating: 7