Give It All Away (Brewster’s Millions, 1985)

Brewsters_Millions_PosterBack in 2008, Bill Gates retired from the day to day of Microsoft and had the plan to devote his fortune to charity. Twelve years of giving charitably, Bill Gates is now worth more than he was in 2008.

Monty Brewster is a down on his luck minor league baseball player who discovers he had a long lost rich uncle.  Monty is the last living relative and is set to receive $300 million on one condition.

Monty is required to spend $30 million in thirty days. At the end of thirty days, he can only have the clothes on his back.

Monty takes the challenge, but finds quickly discovers the odds are against him. The Law Firm dispensing the money will gain all of the estate if they fail, and so they set about trying to sabotage him. His friends enjoy spending the money with him, but Monty has the problem that people assume he does not want to go broke and he cannot tell them why he is spending like a madman.

The seventh adaption of a book from 1902, this version is written by Timothy Harris (who wrote Trading Places, another “rich men put the poor through the ringer” story) and directed by Walter Hill (48 Hours and the Warriors), this version is a vehicle for the late Richard Pryor.  And it is a fun vehicle.  The antics as Monty tries to spend his way to being broke is supported by terrific cast.  John Candy is Spike, Monty’s best friend.  This is pure Candy charm at work, emphasizing a nice and goofy nature with just a hint of being a womanizer.  Lonetta McKee is the person assigned to keep track of Monty’s spending, but unaware of his full situation, she is repulsed by his squandering of money when it could be used for good.

Thirty five years later, Brewster’s Millions still holds up as a fun comedic farce.

 

Fast and Furious (The Quick and the Dead, 1995)

Quick_and_the_Dead_posterStop me if you’ve heard this one…a mysterious drifter comes to town with a purpose only known to her.

Ellen wanders into a small town ruled by Herod.  Every year, Herod holds a quick draw competition.  Gunfighters from all over come to show off their skills. He is a cruel and vindictive man. He has a former partner in crime, Cort, in chains.  Cort walked away from his criminal ways and became a preacher. But Herod is trying to push Cort into cast away his faith.

Ellen is a hard drinking and tortured woman.  She has arrived for the competition.  But as she grows closer to her goal of fighting Herod, the weight of vengeance starts to wear her down. She takes some comfort with Herod’s young and cocky son, called the Kid.

The Kid is tired of living under his father’s shadow.  This is one of the closest points to being human Herod has.  He tries to force the Kid out of the contest when it is clear the kid aims to go against his father.

Meanwhile, Cort tries to convince Ellen to walk away…leading to Herod seeing an opportunity and set Ellen and Cort against each other a shootout to the death.

If this sounds like a mass of western cliches…well, it should.  This is the point of Sam Raimi’s film.  He is paying a very loving homage to the classic spaghetti western.  At the same time, this is shot with the classic Raimi style.  Weird angles, impossible visuals and over the top characters.

This is Gene Hackman at his scene chewing best.  His performance as Herod is the classic “Evil Town Leader” mold, and a whole lot of fun. As the Kid, Leonardo DiCaprio is a lot of fun to watch.  He is immensely over confident, but that is kind of his charm.  Russell Crow’s performance as Cort is a bit more understated. And it serves the character well.  Cort is a bit like Bill Munny from Unforgiven in that he turned from evil and seeks a more righteous path.  But his past refuses to make this easy.

Raimi fills the background with a remarkable cast of character actors.  Lance Henrickson is the fancy Gambler and gunfight Ace.  Keith David is the bounty hunter hired by the town to kill Herod.

The Quick and the Dead is a great love letter to the westerns of Sergio Leone and entertaining as all git out.

Gotham Crumbles (Batman & Robin, 1997)

Batman_&_Robin_PosterRemember how I said Schumacher hoped to make Batman Year one by giving the studio what they wanted?  Well, Batman Forever was actually a hit.  It made a ton of money.  And guess what the studio wanted?  If you said, “A gritty look at Batman’s first year”?  Slap yourself.  They said “Give us more toys and product placement.  Which led to a seen where Batman uses his BatCredit Card.

In addition, Kilmer was the George Lazenby of the franchise.  He was out…in was ER heart throb George Clooney.  Clooney got the luck of putting the nails into the coffin of the original Bat-Franchise.

Batman & Robin is bloated, as it has introduced Robin and now Batgirl (who is Alfred’s niece, rather than Commissioner Gordon’s daughter).  The villains are Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze.  Freeze is almost wonderfully miscast with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role.  The character has always been a thin and lanky dude.  So casting a muscled action star only makes the most sense. In addition to the two villains, the film includes Bane as one of the henchmen of Poison Ivy.

Batman and Robin try and stop Freeze and Ivy who team up for reasons…even though their reasons are kind of in conflict.  Alfred is sick (and Freeze may hold the cure) and Commissioner Gordon is still around because people expect to see him in a Batman movie.

Like the last film, this one contains a big deal soundtrack, part of a thing in the 90’s where soundtracks featuring bands was a sign of a cool and with it movie.  Scores were for suckers in the 90’s.  The soundtrack help more to date the film than make it truly memorable.

Clooney is not terrible in the role…I mean, he is clearly trying to be a good Batman.  But the problem is, he is in a toy-centric movie, where his role is only as important in as much as it can sell toys to kids.  O’Donnell already feels to old to be playing a whiny entitled brat…but there he is.  Alicia Silverstone was a very 90’s choice.  She faced a brutal and unfair onslaught of abuse over fluctuating weight that simply did not belong in coverage of the film.  Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy is okay in performance, but her hairstyles are pretty terrible.  My favorite performance is actually John Glover…his Jason Woodrue is manically entertaining.

Bane is portrayed as a mindless drone under Ivy’s control.  Which shows how they just treated characters a something to be cherry picked with little regard for the original visions of these characters.  Visually the lush color schemes of Schumacher’s previous film.

The entire film is a crazy mess of an art department cut loose in concert with a demand for product tie-in to the point of almost beautiful obnoxiousness.  It never comes together in the end…but if it does not give you a seizure? You probably got out okay.

Batman Will Go On (Batman Forever, 1995)

Batman_Forever_PosterBatman Forever had some big shakeups.  Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were out.  Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer were in.  But the real shakeup was…Warner Brothers wanted to sell more toys.  Schumacher had read Batman: Year One.  He really wanted to tell that story.  The studio was not interested.  Schumacher thought that if he gave them the movie they wanted, he might be able to persuade them on the next film to do the film he really wanted to do.

For the Riddler, the film hired Jim Carrey (fresh off Ace Ventura:Pet Detective, the Mask and Dumb & Dumber) and for Two Face?  Tommy Lee Jones (their established actor choice-no doubt selected for his uncanny resemblance to Billy Dee Williams) was their choice.

The casting of Kilmer was treated like this was a James Bond casting choice. We can replace anybody.  Anyways, The story also introduced Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell).  Batman’s love interest is sexy psychiatrist Chase Meridian.  Really.  Adding more characters means more action figures…and vehicles…Super-heroes gotta have a lot of rides…as do their arch enemies.  Well, unless you are Chase Meridian…you do not get to be an action figure.

Much of the film is given to Jim Carrey to do his typical over the top goofiness that he was known for.  This was three years before he started playing roles that required him to tone it down.  It can become obnoxious, and Tommy Lee Jones tries to keep up, going over the top himself.  Kilmer just fills his tuxedo and walks through the film.  Multiple villains make for a bloated plot.  Add to that the introduction of Robin?  This is not O’Donnell’s finest moment.  He is just not convincing as a skilled martial artist or acrobat.  Chase Meridian is a very boring character.  She seems to be a character existing solely because they felt there should be a love interest.  You know…for the girls.

Again, there is little meat for characters like Commissioner Gordon…and the films make him feel like an old man who is ever so ineffective…and knows it, so he waits on Batman to save the day.

Visually, Schumacher goes more Art Deco with his Gotham City.  He plays with vibrant colors and visual queues.  This is certainly an interesting change…except it also becomes highly implausible that such a city would be built this way.

This was the Bat Franchise teetering on collapse.  But there were no lessons learned.

Back In Gotham (Batman Returns, 1992)

batman_returns-posterJack Nicholson kind of established the villains would always be played by big names.  Danny DiVito was brought in to play the Penguin.  But this was not the traditional Penguin from the comics.  Not merely a short round guy is a top hat, Burton envisioned an origin in which Oswald Cobblepot is born to an affluent family who are repulsed by his grotesque appearance. His father (played by Paul Reubens, who would play Penguin’s father on Gotham decades later) and mother (Diane Salinger) dump him over a bridge where he is found by penguins.

Batman Returns is a rather odd duck.  Selina Kyle is a meek secretary who discovers the evil plans of her boss Max Shreck (Christopher Walken).  She is thrown out a window and barely survives…but wakes after being found by cats.  She flips out and apparently has the nine lives of cats and a really sexy persona.

While the film still  has the gothic visuals, it really feels all over the place.  Adding the secondary “villain” of Catwoman means there is that much more story to address.  On top of that you have a villain in the name of Max Shreck.  Add to that a few moments of implications of Penguin being a bit of a sexual creep (for instance, he is running for mayor and he puts a button on a young woman, groping her breast as he does it).

The film has a more interesting plan than the first film, but still, the sheer goofiness makes it almost to campy.  You have penguins fitted with rocket launchers, weird carnival henchmen, evil businessmen, latex covered secretaries…It never really comes together, and falters repeatedly.

Last Laugh (Batman, 1989)

batman-poster1989 saw the release of the most controversial Batman casting until Batfleck.  Michael Keaton, known almost entirely for comedies such as Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho was cast as Batman…oh the horror and oh the wailing.  A long tradition of freaking out over casting began right here.  People were a bit more open to Jack Nicholson playing the Joker.

As it turned out, Keaton was okay in the role.  His Batman was appropriately serious, while his take on Bruce Wayne was an interesting approach.  His Bruce Wayne seems to be constantly distracted.  After the 1960’s series, Batman’s comics had returned to a darker version of the character.  A dark soul, haunted by his parents’ deaths at the hands of a low level criminal.  People feared Keaton would make this more 60’s Batman, rather than the Dark Knight Returns.

With Tim Burton at the helm, the film was a dark and gothic affair filled with crime bosses and corrupt police officers.  And the fabled Batman haunting the city.  In a attempt to thwart a mob crime, Batman knocks aspiring Crime Boss Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals.  He emerges with a chalk white complexion and a new smile.  He goes off and takes over the Grissom (Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance) criminal Empire.  This leads to an ongoing battle with Batman.

The film has a great cast, headlined by Keaton, Nicholson and Kim Basinger.  They are supported by a crew of character  actors and well known faces.  You have Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and the glue that held the franchise together?  Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted butler and aide.

While the visuals are grand, the Joker’s motives seem supremely mundane.  He wants to be a mobster.  And woo Vicki Vale.  He may be cruel and ruthless, but so are lots of mob bosses in the movies.  Take away the grin and face-paint? He would not stand out.  Batman’s greatest weakness is not Keaton, but the fact that he cannot even turn his head.  The costumes look good in still shots, but seem goofy when Keaton is having to turn his whole body to look around.

In addition, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent feel more like set decorations than characters.  They are almost entirely inconsequential to the story.  They seem to be there because they have to…it is a Batman movie.  Gough is the bright spot in the film.  His Alfred is kind and wise.  He is not as involved in the day to day support of Batman, he is more there to support Bruce Wayne.

While 1989’s Batman is not terrible, it does not quite stand the test of time.  It is still enjoyable, but it does not live up to the character’s full potential.

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