The movie “Jumper” is 88 minutes on a pogo stick, hopping from teenage cliche to teenage cliche. You like the story about the high school nerd who pines for the class beauty and is tormented by her bully boyfriend? You’re in luck. Or do you like the one about the perpetual victim who suddenly discovers that he has his own super powers and is better than everyone else? Then this is your movie. How about the cliche of a teenager trapped in an unloving home with a gruff and unsympathetic father, suddenly liberated from all parental dependence — and isn’t that heartless old dad sorry now? Here’s another one that should sound familiar to you: “what would you do if you had the power to walk into banks, stores, or women’s lives and simply take anything you want?” Every angst-filled teenage fantasy is covered in this movie for just about as long as it takes a pogo stick to touch down. Then we’re off to the next one: the sadder but wiser beauty who realizes how foolish she was to let the nerd go, years before. A group of evil authoritarian figures who don’t believe that kids should be having fun with their super powers (the cornered hero’s plaintive wail, “but I didn’t do anything wrong!” will resonate with every teenager ever caught painting the cat or dismantling the lawnmower).
The virtues of this movie, slender though they may be, are really peripatetic virtues. You get a rapid-fire tour of exotic locations around the world, as jumpers race from the Egyptian Desert to downtown Tokyo to London to Rome. You jump from fight to fight, from character to character. With this pace, the fun and clever moments never last too long, but then again, you never have to confront the lack of depth or substance either. Just as you are beginning to think, “say… this acting is pretty superficial…” WHOOOOSH you are sitting on top of the Sphinx in Egypt, and isn’t it a lovely view?
There are lots of other cliches of teenage wish fulfillment– archetypal stories about mothers and friends– but I don’t want to give away too much of the feather-light plot. Suffice it to say that that no adolescent wish-list item is left unrecognized. The problem is that it is never long enough or interesting enough to be satisfying. This movie is paced for an audience that grew up multi-tasking and its aesthetic sensibility and depth of story-telling is equivalent to a beer commercial. Even at under 90 minutes, too much money has been stuffed into too little script. At one point, a character says that jumping enables you to skip the boring parts. If that were true, he would have jumped out of this movie.
Nor will you find much satisfaction in the acting by stars Hayden Christensen or Rachel Bilson, in the useless role of love interest/damsel in distress, who keeps asking Christensen’s character to tell her what is going on as he is dodging assassins. Samuel L. Jackson, wearing a hairpiece that resembles a Krispy Kreme powdered sugar donut, turns in a calamitous performance as a hit man for the authoritarian “paladins” who for centuries have lived only to squelch the fun of “jumpers,” because only God should have that power. He uses something between an electric lasso and a “don’t tase me, bro” cattle prod to subdue them and it does not seem to occur to him that God might not approve of murder. Christensen, Jackson, Bilson, and Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell all seem to be in different movies, and none of them are worth watching.
This week, both versions of the Faustian comedy Bedazzled are being released in one DVD and both are worth watching. The 1967 original, directed by Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain”) and starring British comedy duo Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, is the story of a short order cook (Moore) who sells his soul to the devil (Cook, who also wrote the screenplay) for the chance to be noticed by a beautiful waitress. He is certain that his seven wishes will give him all the opportunities he needs to persuade her to fall in love with him. But each one goes hilariously wrong. And of course the devil has more than one trick up his sleeve. The story is fine but what makes this movie memorable is what goes on around the edges — like the portrayal of the seven deadly sins (Raquel Welch appears briefly as Lust). The devil keeps busy — watch him scratching record and tearing the last page out of mystery novels as he chats with Moore’s character. And his answer to the question of how he became the devil is very well done.
In the remake, directed by Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Brendan Fraser stars as the lowly cubicle worker who dreams of romance with a pretty co-worker (Frances O’Connor). The devil is a devilishly seductive Elizabeth Hurley. It is not nearly as witty as the first version, but it has superb comic performances and now and then a bit of ambition, like the understated portrayal of God, who shows up incognito to provide some support and guidance.
NOTE: Both with some mature material — recommended for mature teens and adults.
Computers can sometimes be full characters in movies — they play an important part in stories of all kinds — adventure, science-fiction, even romance. The one thing movie portrayals of computers seldom are is accurate and people who actually work with computers sometimes find that annoying. But these five movie computers and the movies that feature them are great family viewing.
1. War Games Matthew Broderick plays a high school kid who is trying to hack into some unreleased computer games when he connects to the Defense Department’s super-secret missile launch program instead. Made in 1983, the real-life computers available to the film-makers were not up to the task of creating the massive computer system required by the screenplay. So, the set (at the time, the most expensive single movie set ever built) used old-fashioned animation for the computer screens. Today, it would be the other way around, with the real-life computers creating special effects that will look “real” on screen.
2. Desk Set The first color film featuring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy is a clever romantic comedy about a television network research department (headed by Hepburn) disrupted by the installation of a new computer called EMERAC (installed by Tracy). The computer looks as antiquated today as a horse and buggy — it takes up much of the room and uses punch cards — but the screenplay and performances hold up beautifully and the issues of automation vs. the human touch are still very relevant.
3. Galaxy Quest One of the funniest films of the last 10 years is this hilarious story of a “Star Trek” like television series that turns out to be the real thing when a group of aliens replicate it in outer space. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shaloub are the washed-up television stars relegated to fanfests and store openings who find themselves in the midst of an intergalactic battle with a tyrannical alien who looks like a big lizard in an eye-patch (and of course has the obligatory attribute for a movie villain — an English accent). One of my favorite lines is when Sigourney Weaver explains that she only has one job on the ship — to repeat everything the computer says!
4. You’ve Got Mail This third version of the classic story about a man and a woman who feud during the day, not realizing that they are exchanging tender anonymous love letters, updates the story to the era of email and takes its title from AOL’s memorable notification. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks communicate via their laptops in this charming love story. (The delightful pre-computer versions of the story were “The Shop Around the Corner” with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and “In the Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson.) NOTE: Screenwriter Nora Ephron is the daughter of “Desk Set” screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron.
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey Probably the most famous computer in movie history is HAL, voiced by Canadian actor Douglas Rain, which greets astronaut David Bowan with a smooth, “Good morning, Dave” (there’s a sly tribute to that moment in “Independence Day”). Its name comes from Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer, and not, as often speculated, because HAL’s letters are each one away from computer giant IBM. We should guess as soon as HAL explains, “The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error” that even a computer can be guilty of hubris.
Kmart has a new promotion urging children to participate in its “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” giveaway. The movie is rated PG-13 “for adventure violence and scary images.” PG-13 means that parents should be aware that it is unlikely to be suitable for anyone under age 13. The movie features guns, an atomic blast, knives, a whip, swords, punches, car chases, insects, and, of course, a snake, and some grisly images, including zombies, corpses, and skeletons. And yet the voice in Kmart’s commercial, urging kids to come into the store and make the purchase that qualifies for a free ticket to the movie, is clearly a child well under age 13. Yes, it is up to the parents to decide what is appropriate for their children to see. But this mixed signals from merchandisers imply to both parents and children that the movie is appropriate and that makes it harder than it should be.
Dick Van Dyke to Guest Star on "The Middle" My all-time favorite sitcom is "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Though I've seen every episode many times, I still watch them on Hulu. And some of the best were the ones featuring Van Dyke's real-life brother Jerry as Rob Petrie's brother, Stacy. ...
The Hobbit: The Definitive Movie Posters The Hobbit: The Definitive Movie Posters is a gorgeous new book and a must-have for all would-be denizens of Middle Earth.
Ebertfest #3 -- The "Ida" Panel [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk2--Y8hfqQ[/youtube]
Thanks to Matt Zoller Seitz, Sheila O'Malley, and Todd Rendleman for our superb discussion about this year's Oscar winner for best foreign language movie, "Ida." ...
Movies vs. Science -- The Worst Science Mistakes on Film The Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum used to have a great little video with a claymation Albert Einstein shaking his head over the many mistakes in sci-fi movies. "They're breaking my rule!" he exclaimed. As the animated genius went on to ...
Trailer: Ant-Man Okay, I admit I was skeptical. I was thinking along the lines of Teeny Little Super Guy from Sesame Street. But I love Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Corey Stoll and this trailer has me sold.
[iframe width="560" height="315" ...
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