Weekly Movie Reviews: Sep 10-16, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

I always feel a little bad when I pick a movie that I’ve already seen as my favorite movie of the week, but most of the movies that we re-watch are exceptional movies so it’s hard to find things that top them. I didn’t remember much about The Hunt for Red October except that I enjoyed it so I was looking forward to seeing it again.

Notorious Russian submarine captain Marko Ramius is given command of the Red October, a prototype submarine with a top-secret silent propulsion system. When he goes against orders and makes his way towards the United States, CIA analyst Jack Ryan must convince his government that Ramius does not mean harm as an international crisis brews.

Most of this movie consists of people talking in enclosed rooms but it somehow manages to maintain significant tension all the way through. There is some action (and it’s well-done; director John McTiernan also made the greatest action movie of all time: Die Hard), but Jack Ryan solves most problems using his brain, not with violence. The cast is amazing. Sean Connery plays Ramius, Alec Baldwin (back when he was young and dashing) plays Jack Ryan, and Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Courtney B. Vance, Tim Curry, and Fred Dalton Thompson are all in it too. It’s hard to single things out as good about this movie – it’s one of those movies that just works and is more than the sum of its parts.

Other Movies Watched

End of Watch (2012)

I first heard of End of Watch while reading about director/writer David Ayer when reading about his upcoming movie, Bright (which is an urban fantasy starring Will Smith and I have high hopes for it). I’m a fan of Ayer’s other work; he wrote Training Day (featuring one of Denzel Washington’s most memorable roles) and wrote and directed the World War II movie Fury.

The movie follows two LAPD cops, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Peña) during their work for almost a year. It’s shot using a combination of traditional camera techniques and the found footage style (explained in-world through Taylor filming their work for a film project). It focuses more on their day-to-day lives rather than an overarching plot, although by the end it tells a coherent story. David Ayer has written a few movies about the LAPD but unlike his previous movies that focus on corruption, this one follows good cops doing their jobs well. The camaraderie between Taylor and Zavala is palpable, but the tropes that go along with the buddy cop genre are nowhere to be seen. The movie is funny, poignant, utterly engrossing, and I highly recommend it.

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

When Harry Met Sally… Movie Poster (1989)

This is one of those classic movies that I’d just never gotten around to watching although I’d seen it quoted and referenced more times than I could count. I’ve seen other Meg Ryan romantic comedies (You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle) and found her supremely annoying in them, plus I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies; I had low expectations going in. I was delighted to find that When Harry Met Sally… is a great movie.

We follow Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), who cross paths a couple of times over a few years before they finally become friends. When I watch most romantic comedies I need to suspend my belief somewhat, romances in movies don’t follow the same rules as real life. However Harry and Sally seemed like real people who reacted to things like normal people and that made me much more invested in their story. There’s certainly some drama like the (in)famous fake orgasm scene and the very end of the movie, but most of their behavior seemed just like people I knew in real life. I read that Sally was based on screenwriter Nora Ephron’s personality and Harry had a lot in common with director Rob Reiner, so maybe that helped with the realism. It was nice to actually see a relationship evolve naturally and I wish more romantic comedies did that.

The Man in the Moon (1991)

The Man in the Moon is the coming of age story of Dani Trant, a fourteen year old girl growing up in Louisiana during the summer of 1957. There are a number of recent changes to her life – her older sister is about to head off to Duke, her mother is pregnant with a fourth child, and the long-absent Foster family has moved back in to the next farm over, including their handsome 17 year old son, Court. Dani develops feelings for Court but life throws a few complications her way.

Dani is played by a fourteen year old Reese Witherspoon (in her debut role) and she is instrumental in making this movie as good as it is. She imbues Dani with a mix of vitality and vulnerability and has great chemistry with Jason London, who plays Court. The relationships between various members of the Trant family seemed realistic, especially the central relationship between Dani and her older sister. It is relatively rare that movies have characterization as nuanced as this one. This isn’t always a happy movie to watch, but it’s well worth it.

Europa Report (2013)

Europa Report is near-future science fiction about the six-member crew of a privately funded mission to Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) sent to investigate the possibility of life. It’s a found footage film, ostensibly pieced together from the video cameras in the spacecraft and news and media interviews.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this movie was hard science fiction and pretty decent to boot. It’s certainly got flaws (the dialogue was sometimes too clichéd) but overall I think it did a fantastic job of exploring both the awe and terror of space exploration. I like stories that focus on the best of humanity and the crew of Europa One certainly qualified (although they would have been even more sympathetic if they had better dialogue). The movie reminded me a little of Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, it had the same qualities even though the plots are very different.

Risky Business (1983)

Joel is a straight-laced teenager who studies hard and stays out of trouble. When his parents go on vacation for a week, his friends persuade him to take advantage of his situation and take some risks. One thing leads to another and he soon finds himself in deep trouble with only a couple of days before his parents get back.

I’ve been wanting to see Risky Business for a long time because of the famous Tom-Cruise-dances-around-without-any-pants scene; I didn’t know anything else about the movie though. It’s a decent movie, although it had an inconsistent tone, particularly towards the end. Joel seemed much too naive for his age, he’s adorable but his behavior/reasoning was too childlike and it was uncomfortable to watch when combined with the very sexual plot. But all the actors do a terrific job and the soundtrack is particularly awesome, so it’s still worth watching.

Mr. Mom (1983)

When engineer Jack Butler (Michael Keaton in his very first top-billed role) loses his job and is unable to find a new one, he has to be the stay-at-home parent while his wife becomes the main breadwinner. Taking care of the kids and the house isn’t as easy as he envisioned though, and all sorts of disasters ensue.

This movie is pretty funny at times; Michael Keaton has impeccable comic timing. It definitely shows its age, though. A lot of the “funny” situations like Jack’s domestic incompetence and the open lechery displayed by his wife’s boss end up seeming either over-the-top or sad (or both). I also wish the end of the movie had been a little less clichéd, it didn’t challenge the status quo at all.

Leave a Reply