His Dark Materials
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I have mixed feelings about this movie. It's fun, it's a spectacle, but it's still kind of flat.
It's also a weird combination of a film that gets the visuals down pat, but doesn't really understand the source material. The baddies look amazing - they are almost uniformly perfect (Mumbles and 88 Keys are misfires), and are as if they stepped off of Chester Gould's drafting board. The colors are striking and bold, just like a Sunday comic page. The set designs are likewise incredible.
Warren Beatty is not very Tracy-like. He's kind of wishy-washy, but he does as best a job as he can. Sam Catchem, while perfectly cast, physically, is really just a background character with no real flavor.
The plot is so overloaded with characters, there is no room for a story.
But, still, it's fun. As a fan of the Dick Tracy comic strip, it was fun to see him in a movie, surrounded by the entirety of the (important) rogues gallery.
The 2 1/2 stars rating I am giving this picture is generous, and it's solely for the performance by Peter O'Toole. He's the only thing about this movie, frankly, that's any good. If anyone else was in the role, it would have been a disaster. But he pulls it off in spades.
The story is typical of its genre. Be it Brighton Beach Memoirs, Radio Days or Summer of '42, etc., they all have a common thread. That is, a nebbish New Yorker tells a story about his youth, set in a specific time frame, and is replete with a goofy cast of supporting characters. At the heart of it, the main character is out to get some, er, "action". Some pull it off better than others.
That said, watching it was not a waste of time. I would gladly rewatch. . . if the non-O'Toole parts were edited out.
This movie is unfairly maligned, and has a reputation that it flopped at the box office. Robin Williams was even critical about it before his passing, but it actually made a decent profit upon release. Jules Feiffer, the writer credited with the screenplay, has stated it's the only movie he has worked on that continues to generate residuals for him.
So why is it so disliked? I believe a good deal has to do with the property. Even though the cartoons were still in wide circulation in 1980, Popeye was already passe - out of style - by the time the movie hit theaters, and remains so today.
Another reason why it might not be so fondly remembered is because of the style. The setting, tone and most of the characters are more EC Segar than Sagendorf. That is, when the comic strip came out, Popeye and company were more rough and tumble. When the strip was taken over by artist Bud Sagendorf upon Segar's death, it became watered down. It borrowed more from the cartoons. More spinach eating, more throw-away gags. And while the comic strip has had a long run in the newspapers, most everyone associates the sailor with his various cartoon appearances.
This movie is far from perfect, but it is far more enjoyable given credit. As mentioned before, Feiffer, a cartoonist himself, wrote the script with the original EC Segar creation in mind. It's in no way 100% faithful to the source material - how Popeye meets Olive Oyl, etc, is completely different from his comic strip introduction, for example. Apparently, much of the story was changed during the shoot by Robert Altman, but the the original 1929 character still shines through.
Also, the costumes are absolutely fantastic. They are incredibly authentic to the comic, without looking stagey. Over the top, of course, but they fit the aesthetics of the movie perfectly.
Robin Williams is the perfect person to play the sailor. He looks like him, he sounds like him, he moves like him. He's also oddly restrained. He could have played him far more broadly. Shelley Duvall, Paul Dooley and Ray Walston were inspired casting choices, as well.
The fault I find is in the way the movie was constructed. It's sometimes a little threadbare, and off the cuff, pieced together scene by scene.
The music is a little off most of the time. All of the songs were written by Harry Nillsson - it was one of the last projects he worked on before his death, and their quality was affected by his health. By that time in his career, he was pretty much washed up, and was brought in through the recommendation of Robin Williams. In my opinion, the songs are lyrically clever and a lot of fun, but most of them fizzle out, especially Popeye's big number "I Yam What I Yam." It's a bang-up tune that doesn't know how to end, so it just trails off.
The ending is pretty weak, but that's due in part, I understand, to there not being a real ending written to the movie. It just kind of ends in a fight between Bluto, Popeye and a rubber octopus. While weak, it's works well enough for it to end in the classic Popeye the Sailorman theme.
Again, not a perfect film. But, frankly, I don't care. It has buckets of charm, and it's pure Popeye.
The Incredible Jessica James wasn't incredible, just... ok. I didn't gnash my teeth throughout, even though I probably should have. It's a middling affair, with nothing to add in the way of insight or originality. But it does succeed wonderfully in making all the characters play on an even field.
Netflix gave us an entertaining movie featuring a woman of color in the lead. It doesn't hammer that in, it's not forced. It just is. We need more movies like this. Fun is fun, and people have emotions and experiences that are similar. It's refreshing seeing it from Jessica Williams' perspective, and we need more like her on the scene.
Where the movie fails, though, is in the development characters. Apart from Jessica, nobody is really fleshed out. Not that everyone needs to be, mind you - Damon (the ex-boyfriend) needs no explanation. He simply is, and is what initially props up the reason for the adventure. But Jessica's friend is there mostly as the occasional goofy sidekick, and acts as a springboard for some of Jessica's thoughts. Boone, Jessica's new flame, is the sympathetic ear who throws a small wrench in the gear, but ultimately proves himself to be a swell guy - just as we thought he would.
Sandwiched in between Jessica's adventures in New York is brief plot point about her family in Ohio. It's obviously something that was included so we can better understand her, but really, it goes nowhere. It could have been left out, and it wouldn't have affected the story in the least. Instead of making people sympathize with the character, it does just the opposite. She comes off as the annoying relative who now live in NYC, and thinks they are hipper and smarter than the people in their hometown. But it's contrary to the Jessica we've seen in New York. I guess the point of it was to show how she's an outsider in her own family? Maybe?
This would have worked much better as a series, where it could have been given room to grow.
A terrific movie. It's rather a stretch to call it scifi, but I suppose because of the future setting, and the scientific nature of the problem, it counts as such. But it side steps all of the tropes.
Clive Owen gives the performance of his career.