M: The Mummy (2017)

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Please note I insist on using the poster without Cruise.

Good grief, where to begin?

I guess the beginning will suffice. The beginning’s okay.

In the early 12th century, Templars bury one of their own, with a mysterious jewel, in a hidden tomb. The tomb is discovered in modern times, and a odd panel of hieroglyphics tells the tale of an ancient Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), destined to inherit her kingdom – until her father has a son late in life. Ahmanet strikes a deal with the god Set, murders her father and half-brother, and is preparing to complete the rite which will incarnate Set into a living man – but the rite is interrupted and Ahmanet is mummified alive and interred in yet another hidden crypt.

All this is fine, if rather reminiscent of the opening of the 1999 Mummy. Nice to see a female version of the monster. I like Sofia Boutella.

Get out of my genre, Tom.

Back to present day, however, in Iraq, where ISIL is tearing down an ancient temple. Two Army scouts are watching from a nearby hill, One pulls down his scarf, revealing he is Tom Cruise, and everything goes to shit. Because at that point, it becomes a Tom Cruise movie.

I don’t hate Tom Cruise, as many people seem to – I just don’t watch his movies, mostly. I will admit enjoying the last two Mission Impossible movies, and Eyes Wide Shut, but he’s just not a factor that draws me to a movie. The story will continue to illustrate to me why this is so. Cruise is Nick Morton, who stole a map with some coordinates from a one-night stand with Jenny (Annabelle Wallis). He figures there’s buried treasure, and he and his partner, Chris (Jake Johnson) will be rich.

This is a bad plan, and Chris winds up calling in an airstrike just to save both their asses. The strike uncovers a hidden tomb, and re-enter Jenny, who holds an unreasonable amount of clout with the military. She gets a limited amount of time to examine the tomb, and against her better judgement is assigned Nick and Chris to assist.

Jenny represents a global organization called Prodigium. Prodigium means a number of things, among them portents, or wonders, or monsters. In this case, it seems to mean Bad Ideas ‘R’ Us as what they find is Ahmanet’s hidden prison tomb. Jenny correctly interprets all the signs and machinery as meaning DO NOT DISTURB, GO AWAY, THIS MEANS YOU, DON’T DO IT and she is still determined to bring this piece of erased history to light.

The cargo plane carrying our supposed heroes and the sarcophagus run into problems, mainly Chris getting possessed and killed and a flock of kamikaze crows causing the plane to crash (this movie can’t even get me involved enough to do the murder of crows joke). Nick manages to get Jenny into a parachute and out, but in the crash the sarcophagus is lost, and everybody is killed, including Nick. Yay!

Here’s an exciting scene from the movie we SHOULD have gotten.

Except that Nick wakes up later in the morgue. Ahmanet is loose, sucking out souls to regain her power. Nick is under some sort of curse and cannot die, or so he is told by his dead buddy Chris, who keeps following him around and trying to guide him to Ahmanet, who wants that jewel found in the Templar tomb to complete her magic dagger, and Nick’s deathless body to incarnate Set into, so she can rule the world in darkness, which is what your modern-day movie mummies do. None of that profaning-the temple or reincarnated love claptrap. That’s your grandmother’s Mummy movie.

This is still an okay setup for a movie. The major problem with the execution is that at this point the movie becomes entirely about Nick Morton, with the title character essentially becoming what seems to be an afterthought that annoyed the filmmakers. Ahmanet is captured in the second act and spends a remarkable amount of time restrained in a chamber while Prodigium embalms her with mercury (which seems to be the equivalent of silver in the Dark Universe), so that Dr. Jekyll can dissect her.

Oh, yes, the head of Prodigium is none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). His plan to dissect Ahmanet is in keeping with the organization’s credo of “The Worst Plan Possible”, as is his practice of injecting himself with the necessary drugs to prevent him from turning into Mr. Hyde (with, of course, an extreeeeeeeeme six-chambered hypo) at the very last second.

But I don’t really mind that – Russell Crowe is one of the very few bright spots in this movie. He’s the only one who seems to know what kind of movie he’s making – one that is destined to be labeled a Superfund site – and has decided “Fuck it!” and goes for it.

Reportedly Cruise used his influence during shooting and editing to emphasize his character, but whatever actually happened, the result is disastrous. Annabelle Wallis’s main function is to convince us that Nick Morton is actually a good person, and Cruise doesn’t cooperate. His usual wisecracking manchild persona just doesn’t fit here, and concentrating on that to the detriment of the intended story basically mummifies it alive. For a movie called The Mummy, there is damned little Mummy and a whole lot of some sort of Wandering Jew character that has no prior instance in the pop mythology supposedly being employed. How the hell do you hire Sofia Boutella and then not use her?

Did you know that the dictionary has a new illustration for “Hubris”?

This is rather famously Universal’s “No! Really! This time for sure!” launch of their Dark Universe titles, something that had been attempted before with 2010’s The Wolfman and 2014’s Dracula Untold, both of which apparently no longer exist, as far as Universal is concerned. The sad part is, they could have probably capitalized on the 1999 Mummy and even its sequels, which were at least entertaining, not an endurance contest like this one. As it is, it merely makes us miss that movie, and constantly ripping off An American Werewolf in London with the undead Chris doesn’t help matters, either.

As I did with I, Frankenstein, I’m going to quote a tweet from film writer A. M. Novak, who makes this very excellent point:

It has been proven over and over again that the rich heritage of Universal’s 1930s mastery of the horror genre is in very wrong hands. Supposedly The Bride is Frankenstein was next, though at the very beginning of October, Universal announced they were pulling the plug on it. Horror fans breathed a sigh of relief, since judging from The Mummy, that one would have wound up being about The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Buy The Mummy on Amazon. See if I care.

 

Labor Day Weekend & The Getting Back of Grooves

I know I’m not the only person who thought August sucked. Reports have poured in from all over the globe that yes, the August of 2013 was particularly brutal in all sorts of ways. Yours truly was seeking to get his mojo back, and not having a whole bunch of success. Let’s see how that shakes out:

The small matter of diabetes. Generally this was pretty favorable, as I settle into my new official lifestyle. The last week I was working on a solid seven days of healthy sugar levels when bam! my levels Saturday night shot up to 207. The cause? Apparently the stress of performing in my weekly show – that was the only change in my daily routine. For someone who has been acting most of his adult life, this is a daunting development. Frustrated, I had a cheeseburger after the show. The next morning, my fasting sugars were normal.

Wacky. I prefer to take this as a lesson in the magic of cheeseburgers, nature’s perfect food.

One thing I did manage when I wasn’t ruminating on the heat attempting to kill me and everything around me, was to develop a plan for re-organizing my home office. Yes, because I don’t have enough things to occupy my Copious Free Time. This is actually connected to one of the other problems of August, the Not-Watching of Movies.

Oh, I still did, as these infrequent ramblings prove. Just not to the excess or with the zeal of previous months. That most notorious of self-imposed regimens, The List, may not be completed this year. Things change. I change.

"I hate you, Netflix! HATE YOU!!!"

“I hate you, Tom Cruise! HATE YOU!!!”

I’ve done two movie-watching challenges this year, and those have done a number on me. I don’t necessarily regret either, but the cost extracted is problematic. I enjoy watching movies, and injecting a definite discipline into that watching kills some of the joy. Probably one of the reasons I never pursued a career as an actual film critic: I want that joy to stay. I’ve seen too many give in to a gradual souring until all they can do is point out negatives; I respect people who continue their love affair with the movies on a regular basis, and keep their writing fresh and accessible.

So. Just because I haven’t been watching movies on a regular basis doesn’t mean I stopped acquiring them, either. I now have quite a few movies I am genuinely excited about watching.

Which is why I want to re-organize my office.

My office pretty much arranged itself organically. When we moved into this house twelve years ago, most of the bookshelves found their way into my office, and they got filled. Then filled again. Then the overstock started hitting the floor. Then I added a reading chair. My computer desk has not moved from its corner, where I can look out the window and, if necessary, see who may be approaching the house – the paranoia of my youth has not completely vanished. There is an increasingly narrow path from the door to my desk.

booksSo current plans involve clearing out the piles of electronics and cabling and power sources that have landed in this room over the years. Clearing out the table that holds a TV/DVD player that hasn’t worked in ten years. My laserdisc player, which surprisingly, still does. Cataloging and boxing up stacks of books and either clearing a space in an equally chaotic garage to store them, or actually investing in a storage room (not ideal). Unpacking the boxes of DVDs that sit in the center of the room, determining which of them I am never going to watch and getting rid of them, and putting the rest in theoretically cleared bookshelves.

Then: Reorienting the former TV table and the reading chair to face each other. Buying a TV manufactured in this century and (ideally) a region-free Blu-Ray player. Maybe a sound bar, probably not. I still have the Roku that was on the downstairs TV, but I mothballed when we got a Smart TV.

When I bought that TV and its companion Blu-ray, I thought I was being exceptionally sly by making sure the first thing seen on it was Dancing With The Stars, thereby convincing my skeptical wife that it was, indeed, a necessary purchase. In the style of classical tragedy, however, this rebounded on me by ensuring all subsequent broadcasts of Dancing With The Stars had to be watched in HD, and I swear to you that fucking show is on four nights a week.

"And we have PEGGED Freeman's Hate Meter!"

“And we have PEGGED Freeman’s Hate Meter!”

So. I of course rarely buy DVDs anymore, because drool drool Blu-ray slobber giggle. And ergo, I need my own little island of Blu-ray viewing so I can watch these fabulous movies I’ve been stockpiling, at will.

The real problem with this dream is the amount of work it’s going to take, in a schedule that includes my part-time job, the other part-time job, the other other part-time job, and the two ongoing writing projects, not to mention any housework, cooking, or parental duties. I estimate two months before I’m even ready to price TVs (I’m lying, I’m already doing that) and start reaping the benefits of this madness.

But like i said, in the meantime, I managed to watch some movies.

the-vixens-of-kung-fu-movie-poster-9999-1020686440Sometimes your interests in obscure movie subgenres lead you down a darkened alley with whispered promises and then punches you, takes your lunch money and runs away. Actually, that’s a pretty fair description of what happens most of the time. That is certainly the case with Vixens of Kung Fu. It’s a somewhat legendary grindhouse feature, primarily legendary because for years, it was damn near impossible to see. It’s a hardcore sex film with kung fu elements, although the martial arts elements here make David Carradine look like Jet Li possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee.

Bree Anthony is walking through some autumn woods and gets accosted by three porn actors (One of whom is supposedly Jamie Gillis, though I didn’t recognize him). She runs away, but get shot in the back. The three lowlifes then proceed to rape her semi-conscious form while the music changes to bluegrass. About a half-hour later, under the tender lesbian ministrations of a female kung fu master (C.J. Laing), we are told that she was shot with “the gun of anesthesia”, which explained the lack of bullet holes and other trauma, I suppose.

So there are some ladies who are Laing’s students, who practice some questionable martial arts and meditation that causes smoke to issue from their lady parts. A lanky yellow-clad caucasian monk ventures into their territory, gets waylaid, is declared an unsatisfactory lover and tossed out. He begs another female master – currently disguised as a cook in a Chinese restaurant – to teach him “Golden Dragon Raising Head Kung Fu”. Which involves training and masturbating in the woods. There is another showdown, with the Monk and Anthony acrobatically schtupping each other into unconsciousness.  Yeah, forget the rapists, I guess they were too expensive to bring back for a vengeance scene.

vixens fuThe Vinegar Syndrome DVD is unbelievably gorgeous – the autumn foliage really pops. Porn, however, is always boring, and there wasn’t anything Vinegar Syndrome could do about that. Vixens has its wild moments that raise it slightly above the norm, but there’s not enough of it to make it interesting enough for a recommendation.

Hey, remember Jack Reacher? Remember how a lot of people were pissed off that Tom Cruise was playing the main character? Man, that seems like it was so long ago. Long enough that the Blu-ray is cheap, so I bought it, primarily because I was intrigued by the idea of Werner Herzog playing the bad guy.

tom-cruise-goes-badass-in-new-jack-reacher-poster-117953-00-1000-100I haven’t read any of the books – and was, in fact, unaware of the character at all – so I didn’t have a dog in the Tom Cruise hunt. What I did find was a pretty serviceable, if fairly unoriginal, crime investigation movie that morphs into an action flick as our heroes get closer to the truth.

The plot concerns a sniping incident involving the death of five people, apparently the work of a crazed loner trained in Iraq. His only statement under interrogation is “Get Jack Reacher”. Reacher is a former Military policeman who caught the culprit in a similar incident in country – but there are several inconsistencies with the current shooting that stick in his craw. Behind the machinations, of course, is Herzog as a man known only as “The Zeck” – who once gnawed the frostbitten fingers off his own hand in Siberia to prevent gangrene.

Herzog is muted and incredibly creepy as the criminal mastermind. I thought Cruise was fine as Reacher, though, as I said, I have no prior knowledge of the character to color my judgement. The supporting cast is terrific, there are a couple of good fight scenes. Overall, though, you can wait to see this on Netflix.

Over the past year or so, I’ve watched two movies about Idi Amin. One, Amin: The Rise and Fall, was a somewhat sensationalized docudrama. The second, The Last King of Scotland, was pure fiction with enough basis in fact to make it solid. So somehow I find myself watching Barbet Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait, which is undeniably the real thing.

general-idi-amin-dada-a-self-portrait-movie-poster-1974-1010675046Amin granted Schroeder a number of interviews and staged several adoring rallies for the camera. He also gathered together 150 French citizens living in Uganda and threatened to kill them if Schroeder didn’t cut three minutes from the movie. Schroeder, of course, did so, and at this point the “Self Portrait” portion of the title came into being, as Schroeder felt it was now totally under Amin’s control. After the dictator’s deposing, the cuts were restored, and that is the version Criterion rightfully issued.

The cut portions mainly concerned public executions, and a few snippets from a dispassionate narrator mentioning the staged appearances, or pointing out people who would later be found mysteriously dead or vanish altogether. These quite undercut the persona Amin presents otherwise, an affable man of the people, always ready with a joke or a laugh – downright charming, most times. It’s surprising Amin didn’t want one entire section cut, when he is conferencing with a very critical group of senior physicians, and Schroeder zooms in his face – unhappy, brooding, eyes darting back and forth as if seeking escape – as in that moment he actually looks capable of ordering the death of almost 300,000 of his countrymen. Then he turns on the charm and gets the doctors laughing.

Schroeder ends the movie with that same close-up, and with a bit of narration that Amin did insist be cut; that cut remains, and the moment plays out in powerful silence.

Labor Day I journeyed into town with pal Dave to see an animated movie that he – and a couple of my other friends – did voice talent for a couple of years ago: Last Flight of the Champion. This was apparently the culmination of two brothers’ lifelong dream, and by golly they even managed to get a (very) limited theatrical release. There were about seven of us in attendance, and we owned that theater.

the-last-flight-of-the-champion-105892-poster-xlarge-resizedThe plot isn’t new; galactic despot is taking over planets (I guess because he can), and a painfully earnest young turtle guy finds a buried spaceship left over from the last round of galactic despot fighting, the Champion. Yes, turtle – this is a sci-fi universe populated by animal toons alongside humans. The turtle puts together a crew of similarly painfully earnest misfits and flies off to take on Darth Meanie and his armada.

I went into this movie with great misgivings, mainly thinking that there were movies I really wanted to see but couldn’t carve out the time, like The Conjuring or You’re Next, but here I was walking into a theater to see something that had been described as having computer animation on the level of a local TV commercial.

Well, it wasn’t that bad. Pixar has nothing to worry about, but there were some very nice sequences. The characters aren’t very detailed (and there are way too many of them), and for some reason the animators, when the script says “Let’s hurry!” still has everyone cycle through the same walk animation they’ve been using the whole time. The script is pretty good, though there are some clunky parts, and the story shows some drastic cutting – but my friends did good work, there’s some cleverness in the background details, and overall, it didn’t suck. In fact, it was downright painless.

So that’s The Last Flight of the Champion. You got kids who like science fiction, it’s a safe bet.

“Rated PG for some rude humor.” Huh. That means a monkey flings poo. Offscreen. People only talk about it. I don’t get the MPAA.