Monday, October 10, 2011

Jump Cuts: Junior, Time Bandits, Layer Cake

Full reviews aren't right for all films - movies that seem past the point of timely comment, movies I can't find an interesting angle on, movies I just don't feel like explicating. Some movies are better off with bite-size opinionating. Let's call them "Jump Cuts."

Dir. Ivan Reitman

1.5 out of 5

In what sounds like a perfect premise for David Cronenberg, Junior involves the planting of a monkey embryo inside a male fertility scientist (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who carries the pregnancy to full term. Somehow this turns out much less outrageous than it sounds. In fact, the movie is aggressively restrained - an errant shoe landing on the table at a fancy dinner party counts as its most outrageous gag. Despite the flummoxed chemistry of Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito (who previously teamed up in Reitman's Twins), Junior is proudly prosaic when it should have been over-the-top.

Time Bandits (1981)
Dir. Terry Gilliam

3 out of 5

Terry Gilliam is a lot like the smart kid in school who nonetheless spent all his time doodling fantastical creatures and terrible machines in the margins of his composition book. Time Bandits has a similar lack of focus in its first two acts, following an imaginative boy (Craig Warnock) as he tags along with a band of diminutive time-traveling thieves
hiding a stolen treasure map from the aptly named Evil Genius (David Warner). The time travel element, sadly, is mostly an excuse for stars like Sean Connery and John Cleese to turn in glorified cameos as various historical figures. While there's plenty of funky mischievousness in Gilliam's script (which he co-wrote with fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin), his kitchen-sink approach to visuals is the best part of Bandits, particularly in a climax where Warnock and his cohorts face off against Warner and his menagerie of otherworldly (and highly combustible) henchmen. It's a ramshackle sugar rush of a movie that makes little distinction between charming whimsicality and sensory overload.

Layer Cake (2004)
Dir. Matthew Vaughn

3.5 out of 5

In a performance that essentially made him the next James Bond, Daniel Craig is very un-Bond-like in Layer Cake as a high-end drug dealer finding it difficult to sever his ties to the criminal underworld once he's made his fortune. More businessman than thug, Craig is unaccustomed to getting his hands dirty and balks at direct confrontation until he's made to see who he really is by Michael Gambon, a leonine crime boss who runs away with every scene. Layer Cake is also stylish as hell. Vaughn exhausts the entire playbook in the telling of novelist J. J. Connelly's jigsaw puzzle of a script, jumping back and forth through time and across a large number of colorfully-nicknamed characters. To be honest, it's hard to find a mechanism in Layer Cake that isn't a lift from or a minor enhancement of something that belonged to Tarantino or Richie or any other successful gangland thriller of the past 20 years. But that hardly seems to matter as the film sweeps you up in tense negotiations and a parade of double-crosses. It's derivative, yes, but effective all the same.


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