Movie Review – Hanky Panky

Hanky Panky (1982, dir. Sidney Poitier)

hanky_panky_1982_3h2016

A Chicago architect named….(wait for it) Michael Jordan (Gene Wilder) is headed back to his hotel after brokering a deal in New York City when a woman on the run from a couple menacing fellows stumbles in. He quickly becomes involved in an international game of spies and espionage. He gets help from a reporter (Gilda Radner), and the two go on the run after Jordan is framed for murder.

Much like I felt about Poitier’s previous Gene Wilder venture, Stir Crazy, this movie is an utter failure as a comedy. And it’s not too great of an action/thriller film either. The MacGuffin that drives the whole plot is very confusing and unclear, and even at the end, I was still trying to figure out what the big deal was. Things start out interesting enough. A mysterious man wakes up, disoriented, sees a strange painting of a Southwestern landscape on his bedroom wall and proceeds to hang himself. It’s a pretty intense hook. Then we move to Kathleen Quinlan as the woman whose path crosses Jordan’s. She is playing it straight, which is perfect for an action comedy. The comedy comes from moments in the story but the story itself takes things seriously.

I kept thinking back to how good Silver Streak was, how it balanced genuine situational comedy with a legitimately exciting and interesting conspiracy story. Lots of things happen in Hanky Panky and the two leads go to lots of locations, but it never feels like it amounts to anything. It is a lot tighter in its structure then Stir Crazy but still misses the mark on the actual comedy. There’re some instances of Wilder’s trademark outbursts, but they hit too frequently and don’t feel appropriate for the scenes.

The strangest thing to me throughout the whole production was how underused Gilda Radner was. She was known for being a very high energy comedic talent, and she is a fine actor. They just never give her anything to play off of or do other than eventually become the damsel in distress. I got similar feelings from when I see Kristen Wiig in certain productions that seem to ignore her comedic talents.

As far as Wilder’s career, this was near the point where it was beginning to slow down regarding hits or highly memorable work. From interviews I’ve read, he seemed to be a particular actor, so I assume he was looking more at films that interested him rather than would do well. He also began his relationship with Gilda Radner at this point. We’ll see the pair again in his next film, The Woman in Red as well as Haunted Honeymoon. I’ll be posting about both of them very soon.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014, dir. James DeMonaco)

the-purge-anarchy-default-1920

Whenever I’m playing through a video game and it suddenly forces me to engage in an escort mission, bringing a character I can’t control from point A to point B and keeping them alive, I will groan and slog my way through it. The Purge: Anarchy is a video game escort mission as a feature length film. I have not seen the first Purge film but was told it was unnecessary viewing and that this second film would fill me in. That was true, they deliver a lot of first act exposition to explain what is going on.

The film tells the story of the night of the sixth Purge. The Purge is an annual event instituted by an upstart extreme Libertarian political party as a way to help people release their rage. For twelve hours, all crimes are legal and the use of most weapons in committing these crimes is permitted. In Anarchy, we have an unnamed man (Frank Grillo) embarking on a mission of revenge. On his way, he makes the decision to help out a mother and her daughter and his Purge night takes an extreme divergence from his plans. A couple more characters join up with the group and they make their way across Los Angeles trying to survive the slaughter and mayhem around them.

It was probably not a good idea to make this my very next film after Green Room because the former definitely highlights the huge problems with the latter. Read my review of Green Room here. The Purge: Anarchy has five protagonists and none of them die until the last 15 minutes of the film and then it is only one. If the goal of the film is to make me feel that the event is the most dangerous and insane thing I could go through then it fails big time. Green Room kills off the most well prepared and confident character in a snap of your fingers. Here we have Frank Grillo essentially playing The Punisher and making it to the end and, spoiler, he’s the main protagonist of the third one currently in theaters. The film undercuts any sense of true fatality by keeping its main character alive the entire film.

Then we get to the metaphor of the film, and by god, it’s pretty hard to miss because they have shaped it in the form of a Mack truck. When I was in college, I stumbled across the film Mississippi Burning about the murder of three civil rights activists and directed by Alan Parker. I was astonished at how on the nose and disingenuous the message of the film felt. They kept beating you over the head with “Racism is bad”. Yes, I know that. But what interesting avenues in regards to racism do you plan to explore? Oh, none. Ok. Then why make this movie? But at least Parker’s film had a cogent message. I can’t tell you what Purge: Anarchy was attempting to say about anything. I suspect writer/director James DeMonaco is a little confused himself.

The first guess you might have is a message about Americans and their addiction to guns and the violence in our culture. Well, we have an allegedly anti-Purge group led by Carmelo (the always awesome Anthony K. Williams) telling us that the Purge concentrates its violence on the poor and minorities. Okay, a little on the nose, but let’s go with it. However, in the third act Carmelo and his group show up at a warehouse where One Percenters are hunting people down and state “It’s our time to Purge”. And the film portrays this as good and justified. I don’t think messages can get more mixed than that. They’re moments where we find young black men rounding up people from their own communities and selling them to the rich. We have two battling sisters who end up spilling blood over their shared love, one of the sister’s husbands. There’s a dude in an American flag baseball cap traveling around in a semi-truck with a personal army and mowing people down with a minigun. But the film never manages to compose a semi-cohesive point about any single thing it brings up. They’re bits of fictional media sprinkled throughout that build up the world but I never saw an underlying statement to any of it.

Even without a coherent thesis, the film could have done something stylistically interesting. The cinematography is sloppy and derivative. The pacing is dull and it becomes a movie where you are checking the time to see how much is left. If they had gone the route of Pulp Fiction-esque anthology that could have been interesting, playing with time and narrative order. They could have had the main character in one story as mere cameos in another. There were some points where we could have delved deeper into the racial impacts of the Purge but the film never has the guts to. I think having a late 40s white male director is going to keep the film from exploring those elements in any interesting way. I thought of a very different film, Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon (1990), that wanted to say something about race relations and came off as one the most insultingly dumb movies I’ve ever seen. This is sort of like Grand Canyon but with more guns, and even then I never felt the flinching and queasy sense of danger I got from Green Room.

The only moment in the film that got me truly interested were the final moments between Grillo and his target. There could have been some amazing themes explored there, some really complex and challenging performances. But then it just whimpers out and we cut away. The resolution is implied but I frankly would have rather seen a one room film set on the night of The Purge about Grillo and his target. Explore how people use the Purge to enact revenge and explore the psychological effects on those who do purge. The film just ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It didn’t make me interested in watching the newest film. Even looking at it as an ultra-violent escapist film you have to note it took the whole movie for even one of the five main characters to die! It just feels like a very surface level dip into sociology that other films have explored in more interesting ways.

John Wick (2014, dir. Chad Stahelski, David Leitch)

john wick

I remember seeing the trailer for John Wick a couple years ago and thinking “You can’t be serious. Because they killed his dog?” Now that I’ve seen the film, I sit here thinking…well, I’m not sure. The film tells the story of retired assassin John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves. His wife died suddenly and not long after he receives a dog that was her last gift to him. The dog is brutally killed by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of a Russian crime boss, and this pulls Wick back into the game he thought he had left behind. Throw in supporting roles from a bevy of character actors: Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick, and David Patrick Kelly (Warriors! Come out and play-ayyy!).

This film felt like a comic book. That is it felt like I picked up the collection of “John Wick Returns”, a mini-series wherein a popular crime comics character was brought back after an absence of a few years. The way we were introduced to the world and its inhabitants without tons of exposition to explain themselves, made me feel like this was a world I could go back and read about in other titles. Of all the places and characters the world was peppered with, I enjoyed the Continental, a hotel that caters exclusively to assassins and paid killers, the most. I also loved the sense of history John had with everyone. We have no idea what the details are to these connections, but it felt like there would be dozens of stories to tell. Marcus (Willem Dafoe), John’s mentor, held a lot history in his interactions with John and, like any good comic book universe, I am sure the equivalent of “John Wick Begins” detailing his training under Marcus would be amazing.

I would never say I was a huge action movie fan so I was not the target audience of this film. Not being an expert on the craft and technique behind movie fights, I thought everything felt realistic. Nothing John did was too incredibly unreal. If you’re used to more hyper-stylized fighting you might think this was a more toned down version, but it looks like the way someone like John Wick would really fight. It’s funny now that I think about it; the action which you would expect to be the exaggerated element is played fairly real while it’s the world building that goes over the top.

There’s definitely some nods to classic action directors: The shooting out of the glass walls made me think of John Woo. Wick is your archetypal silent, stoic killer along the lines of a lot of French noir crime films.The acting is fine. I didn’t see any performances that blew me away, everyone sort of knew who they were playing and did that. I always love seeing David Patrick Kelly in anything and I did really enjoy the mannerisms he brought to his “clean up crew” character.

There’s a sequel on the horizon and I’m interested to see what they do. This film really plays like “the final John Wick” story and the stakes used to pull him back into action are about as intense as they get. Something taking place before this would work but I would like to see this older, broken Wick continue however they decide it might work. This isn’t going to be one of my favorites of the year, but it is an enjoyable film that kept my attention the whole run time. If you enjoy films with sense of a deep, developed world then I definitely think John Wick will deliver.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, dir. Matthew Vaughn)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, dir. Matthew Vaughn)

Purchase Kingsman on Blu-Ray or DVD

Kingsman-The-Secret-Service-review

Kingsman is a reinvention of the James Bond concept, based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The story’s focus is on Eggsy, a young British man whose life has not turned out as he would have liked. Primarily his mother is brutalized by a brute in the estates. Eggsy ends up in trouble with the law but calls in a favor from a mysterious man who visited the family after the unexplained death of Eggsy’s father. It turns out his dad was part of a secret society of gentlemen who fight against global threats. Eggsy is enrolled in the program and must see if he can pass an increasingly deadly series of tests. Meanwhile, Galahad, the man who is now mentoring Eggsy, discovers a plot to wipe out humanity and must race against the clock to stop it.

I’ve had fairly positive feelings about the work of director Matthew Vaughn. I am a big fan of X-Men: First Class, it is without a doubt the best X-Men film we’ve had to date. I enjoyed his debut feature Layer Cake and Stardust was alright. I am not a fan of Kick-Ass which brings us to Mark Millar. Mark Millar is a comic book writer I’ve had very mixed feelings about. His Kick-Ass comics, and most of his more recent titles, have been way too mean-spirited for my personal tastes. His Marvel works has ranged from wonderful (Old Man Logan) to mixed (Fantastic Four) to outright terrible (Marvel 1985). There’s just a little too much irony in everything he writes, but occasionally he will come out with something that subverts my ideas. Kingsman seems in line with most of what Millar writes, but I think Vaughn’s work with the material is what elevates it.

I enjoyed the film quite a bit, despite sometimes messy plotting. Eventually the plot become so convoluted and silly you have to just sit back and enjoy the pretty and crazy things on the screen. The film is not scared to go super violent and within the first 10 minutes we have someone sliced down the middle. If you had always wanted James Bond to be heavier on the blood and guts then you have it made. The action sequences are enjoyable, though one over the top moment in the middle of the film goes on for just a few too many beats that it goes from laughing out loud in shock to really wanting things to finish already.

Kingsman is happy to compare itself to James Bond and goes very meta with the comparison. Galahad the big bad villain even have a tete a tete where they talk about their childhood dreams to go grow up and be differing roles in a Bond film. A death in the film even brings up the trope of a death trap that gives the good guy time to escape. The film walks the line between a classic Bond picture and a spoof a la Austin Powers and manages to come out fairly balanced. It never falls into outright farce but it knows it is a dumb fun movie and revels in that.

Kingsman isn’t going to change your life, but it will fill a void for classic Bond that the current Bond films seem to have forgotten, especially Spectre. While Spectre was Bond with the absence of any levity or humor, Kingsman is the adventures of a foul mouthed James Bond Jr. It fulfills the promise of those pictures with the English spy with the license to kill, a good two hours of spy gadgets, crazy villains, and fun action. With a sequel in the works, I’m interested to see if this franchise falls into the same formula as Bond, or carves out its own unique and cheeky niche.