During a trip to the US this past Summer, I indulged in one of my favorite American pastimes: one dollar movies. I took in several of this year's summer blockbusters from Hollywood. So, I thought I'd jot down a few notes about the ones I've seen in case that might help you to decide which ones you might want to see.
Independence Day. Also known in the lingo of the media hip as ID4, this movie was certainly the sensation of this past summer. In short, very destructive aliens come to conquer the earth in a 1990's retelling of the familiar H.G. Welles' story. The special effects are quite amazing. If you go for that sort of thing (I do!) it might be worth spending the extra money to catch it in the theatre. If you enjoy the kind of cheesy elements that pepper all summer action films: smart-aleck quips instead of real dialogue, larger-than-life stereotypes instead of human characters, and plots about as predictable as the Yamanote line, then you will enjoy this. On the other hand, there are several good performances in this film, particularly by Jeff Goldbloom.
Eraser. This year's Arnie film, it has all the elements of recent Arnie films such as True Lies and Last Action Hero. Arnie's film career has had an easy-to-identify progression that has left him in the uncomfortable position as an undefeatable icon. In his early action films, such as Conan, Commando and Red Heat, he was essentially a man overcoming human opponents. As his films continued, however, he began to survive more and more extreme challenges. For example: an alien and a tactical Nuke (in Predator) and unprotected exposure to Mars' atmosphere (in Total Recall). So now, when an audience sees Arnie on the screen, they believe he is indestructible. As a direct result, he is no longer a credible action film actor, because it is almost impossible to build suspense with him present. So the strategy of the last few films has been to put him in impossible situations that we tongue-in-cheekly know he will escape. Which brings us to Eraser. If you enjoy this kind of Arnie film, you will love this one. Of course, the dialogue is a little thin and there is almost no suspense at any time, but it's still fun to watch Arnie wiggle out of his jams. In Eraser, these jams include sonic weapons, giant alligators, and one outstanding scene where Arnie's parachute falls out of his plane before he does.
Mission Impossible. All-in-all, of the films I saw this past summer, this was the most disappointing. If you've seen the trailer for this movie, with its outstanding BGM and action scenes, you have definitely seen the best parts of this movie. In fact, the trailer is much more entertaining than the movie itself! There are two or three scenes in this movie that are somewhat entertaining, but all in all, this movie falls flat. Let me say, I usually like Tom Cruise. And some of the supporting cast also do well with what they have, but no character gets past the first dimension of development. This film has been called "Tom Cruise does James Bond", but let me end by saying that any James Bond movie is infinitely better than Mission Impossible.
Toy Story. This was not actually a Summer Film, but it was still in the cinemas during my trip, so I took it in. Since this is Disney, you can expect a certain amount of PC schmaltz. But, most Disney films can be credited for having better developed scripts than the average Hollywood flick, and this is definitely true of Toy Story. This was easily the best movie I saw while in America. The first full-length feature film done entirely via computer animation, this is the story of what toys do while unobserved by their owners. To say that they come to life is not even half the story: they have meetings, organize military operations, and engage in internal politics. This movie focuses on the rivalry between the old favorite toy (with the voice of Tom Hanks) and the new favorite toy (with the voice of Tim Allen). I found the whole experience enjoyable, if not a little psychedelic!
Rumble in the Bronx. Also not strictly a summer film, this is a recent Jackie Chan offering. The story of a Chinese youth who goes to New York to work with his uncle and the kung fu adventures that he finds there, this is a good "example" film of Chan's physical prowess. The plot is simple, designed to maximize Chan's stunt ability and minimize the need for acting. Since I do consider Chan a good actor, this aspect of the film is a little disappointing. But since I also worship his ability to move, jump, and fight with superhuman speed, precision, and humor, I still enjoyed this film. Due to Chan injuring his leg in the middle of filming, the original ending was changed and this film's ending was just thrown together. That is certainly the film's weakest point. A friend of mine described this movie as a stunt man film. It may be true, and may or may not discourage some from seeing it. Also, this movie is very violent, but NOT in that Godfather/Natural Born Killers way. It is all cartoon violence. Not only is it not at all graphic, the body count is very, very low. Definitely other movies on this list should be considered significantly more violent. Rumble in the Bronx is available on video here in Japan, but the title is "Red Bronx". But I'm not sure of the language question: Will it be in Chinese, Japanese, or English?
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