IT’S NOT THE THREE TENORS

Just a random thought —

I was singing in the shower, as I am wont to do …. please remember this point as your first clue … and a thought occurred to me which has led me to ask the following riddle:

What does a relatively current action adventure hero, a tall gangly comedian and the eponymous lead of a 1979 TV sitcom have in common?

The late and gravely voiced Emmy winning Robert Guillaume, with a sterling list of 100 stage, TV and film accomplishments is probably best known for his stint as the butler, Benson, in the 1979 TV sitcom of the same name.

Michael Crawford launched his film career as the tall, gawky, limber-limbed, nasal-voice, love-smitten store clerk in Hello Dolly.

Gerard Butler’s tough Scottish brogue-personality has enlivened the entertainment factor of many an otherwise generic action adventure flick.

What on EARTH could they possibly all have in common? To my knowledge they were never in any project at the same time.

Crawford is British, very white bread, old enough to be Butler’s father, and originally wanted to be a pilot or soccer player.

Guillame, the most senior of the three, was a black Missourian, born about the same time as Crawford’s parents, raised by his grandmother after being abandoned by his alcoholic mother, and was an army veteran.

Butler, the youngest of the trio, grew up a fatherless youth in Scotland and became a  lawyer before launching into his acting career.

Guessed yet?

Here’s a hint:

“In the dark…” such as in a movie or stage theater or even in a den watching a movie with your family with the lamps off, “…it is easy to pretend that the truth is what it ought to be.”

Give up?

They are the three best known Phantoms – that scarred, masked, probably psychotic, mysterious denizen of the opera theatre catacombs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Phantom of the Opera, who will kill to get his songbird protege on stage, and murder while belting out some of the most famous tunes in all of stage and screen. Crawford was first on stage in 1986, with Guillame taking over in 1990, in a controversial but proven brilliant move after Crawford moved on. Then Butler took that lead in the 2004 filmed version.

“Music of the Night”…”Phantom of the Opera”…”All I Ask of You”…”Angel of Music”. Any of these songs sung by any of these men will send chills down your spine, fire your imagination, and melt your heart.

There’s something about music that unites us more than almost anything else. Each of these very talented men come from completely different backgrounds, had vastly divergent career paths, and dramatically different personality and acting styles out of mask, yet —- and yet they all performed this heartbreakingly tragic, mesmerizing and deliciously vocalled character in a way that entranced audiences around the world.

Music and love – two of the only generators of real magic in the world.

So there you have it – A geeky Brit, an urbane sitcom star and a thuggish-looking action hero. Who’d’ve guessed it — three generations of actors who became – The Three Phantoms.

DEN OF THIEVES – KINETIC, EXPLOSIVE (LITERALLY), RED-BLOODED COPS AND ROBBERS

SHORT TAKE:

Octane fueled version of a good old fashioned cops and robbers movie structured like a football film.

LONG TAKE:

I love a good cops and robbers movie where you have the force of law in opposition to the practitioners of chaos. And there are about as many ways to tell a "cops and robbers" movie as there are imaginations to tell it: comedies like the old - itItalian Job, The Great Train Robbery and even Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; buddy movies like old - hbThe Hitman’s Bodyguard; movies seen from the perps point of view like old -BCButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and old - stingThe Sting; mysteries like old - usThe Usual Suspect; histories like The Pursuit of DB Cooper and old - serpicoSerpico; private eye flicks like old - mfThe Maltese Falcon; parable-like such as old - 3g3 Godfathers or Fargo; ensemble style such as old - ncThe New Centurions; pursuit movies like The Fugitive and The French Connection; even sci-fi like old - BRBlade Runner. Then you have combos. There’s comedy suspense like all the Die Hards; buddy dark comedy like Midnight Run; mystery private eye like Chinatown; sci fi mystery cautionary tale like old - mrMinority Report; dark dark comedy seen from the perp point of view like old - DDADog Day Afternoon; and sci fi comedy mystery like Demolition Man.

It is hard to find a variation that has not been done to death but Den of Thieves artfully manages to pull off a slightly different take. Seen evenly from both the robbers and the police point of view the movie spools out like a Mission: Impossible caper only planned by the bad guys.

The premise is that a group of professional and experienced criminals led by schreiberMerrimen (Pablo Schrieber who happens to be the half – brother of Liev "Wolverine’s brother" Schrieber) are planning to pull off the "perfect" heist – snatching the used and soon-to-be shredded hundred dollar bills from the Federal Reserve before they are missed. Schrieber manages this three dimensional anti-hero with the same confident skill with which he played a pure American hero in 13 hours13 Hours (about the Benghazi embassy terrorist attack).

I have no intention of giving any spoilers, but will assure you that despite what appear to be holes in the plot or preposterous amounts of informational prep in the possession of the crooks, it is a cleanly written and well thought out script.

On the side of the angels-with-dirty-faces is nick4Gerard Butler’s "Big Nick" who heads up an elite team of police with virtually free rein to keep check on the mayhem in this "Bank Robbery Capital of the World". Captions right after the credits point out that L.A. has a bank robbery every 48 minutes. (Remind me not to deposit money if I go visit my brother.) Butler’s Nick informs a would be snitch that they are far less likely to go to the paperwork trouble of arresting you than shooting you. I do not believe this is idle banter. More hound dog and hung over than Bogie, scruffier than Serpico and more heavily weaponized than Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, I suspect Nick would inspire Dirty Harry to run for cover.

Butler dives into his character with tremendous gusto. It’s a bit of a shock to remember that 14 years ago he had thesinging singing lead in imagesGHO8EMK2filmed version of Phantom of the Opera. And only Shakespeare afficianados will recall he and Fiennes co-starred in the cinematic Coriolanus. A very talented guy, he is as at home in the sappy romantic psPS I Love You as he is the unstoppable secret service agent in the

Olympus/London Has Fallen movies. It’s obvious why he has done this over the top popcorn movie – he just enjoys the heck out of chewing up scenery, dialogue, and bad guys as the over the top, over the edge centurion – holding the barbarians at bay.

Rounding out the core of the cast is jacksonDonnie played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. Jackson is the son of rapper Ice Cube, and had the rare opportunity to play his own father in comptonimagesZYAOZ6J6Straight Outta Compton. Jackson does a marvelous job of portraying Donnie in Den, the sympathetic young driver of the gang of thieves.

A couple of things made this a stand out movie for me. The acting was quite good for this genre, the action scenes were exciting and well edited, all the characters were interesting – showing them personally and professionally in detail, and the caper was both intricate and believable. But one of the innovative items was the approach. The writer-director, Christian Gudegast, who also wrote and directed London Has Fallen, showed both the cops and the robbers often side by side. While showing the bad guys prepping for a heist, the cops are shown prepping for their interception. Merrimen and Nick are both well aware of each other and they not only play cop and robber but cat and mouse, laying tricks and traps along the way. While perhaps not a unique plan of attack, Gudegast carries the theme off in creative and surprising ways which were cinematically well executed.

I also appreciated the fact that while making the bad guys sympathetic in some ways by showing them protective of their children and schreibernot out to create unnecessary mayhem, schreiber2there is no doubt Merrimen's group are the bad guys.  And though the cops committed more than their share of vice, there is no question Nick's men are the ones who protect the innocent and even attempt to treat their dangerous quarry with dignity. So while endeavoring to show all parties as three dimensional, Gudegast does not try to lead us down a garden path of murky gray area as some films do, such as Dog Day Afternoon or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Despite the questionable behavior in many of the cops' personal lives, and the sometimes morally and legally questionable activities of our intrepid heroes of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, the first scene of rampant bloody destruction by the bad guys leaves us without doubt for whom we should be rooting.

I also enjoyed the parallels of professionalism – the simultaneous prep, the frequent meetings in "random" places – all had the feel of two teams gearing up to meet at the ultimate winner take all championship game. To emphasize this, Gudegast makes a number of references to the fact that several characters on both sides previously had experiences in both the military and on football teams.

So, unless the NFL players start to stand for the Star Spangled Banner, skip the Superbowl and go see Den of Thieves, where there is no doubt as to where your allegiances should lie.

NOT FOR CHILDREN, there is a good deal of profanity, naked women, morally wrong behavior by both "sides" and bloody violence.

GEOSTORM – Entertaining Crazy Quilt of Cliches Create a Delightful Dish of Disaster

I have always been a sucker for a disaster movie. Perhaps it is because it gives me perspective against my anxiety neurotic tendencies. Maybe it’s the cathartic thrill of watching people be braver than I ever want to have to be. Or maybe it’s the parade of celebrity cameos that inevitably populate the screen. Or just the fact that when I get out of the movie theater all I have to worry about is bills, car repairs, grocery shopping, and remembering whether I gave all the animals heart worm medicine this month. The fact there is no world shattering meteor heading our way, or pandemic zombie virus ravaging the country or hostile aliens incinerating national landmarks is a relief.

Over the years I’ve noticed there are formats and factors required of a movie to BE a disaster movie. While no one disaster movie has to have them all they simply must have at least 2 or 3. The more points they have the better and more satisfying the disaster movie. And Geostorm hits a LOT of the hot spots.

Geostorm is your classic formulaic disaster movie. And I do NOT mean this as an insult. Just like your standard rom com is structured in a way so familiar it has bred the cliche: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back – the audience who goes to see one would be disappointed if that was not what happened. Like buying a McDonald’s hamburger in China, Australia or England – with minor variations – you really expect to get the same burger you’d find in Lake Charles, LA or Taylor, South Carolina or Irvine, California. If you wanted something different you’d have gone somewhere else to eat.

It’s the same with certain genres of movies. You expect spy movies to feature car chases and lots of fisticuffs. Cop movies catch (and usually kill) the bad guy. Westerns need a gun slinging confrontation. Kung fu movies involve a LOT of kicking. Slapstick comedies wouldn’t be slapstick without characters enduring extravagant falls, bludgeons and other impacts without much consequence.

And disaster movies have their own standard set of events and contrivances without which you would leave the theater feeling as empty as your popcorn box.

The premise of Geostorm is that after a series of very bad meteorologic events all the countries of the world put aside their differences and got together to create a network of satellites called Dutchboy after the child in the story who put his finger in a dike to forestall its failure. Dutchboy was a scientific marvel equipped to disburse lasers or mini bombs or…well they don’t really explain how it works that much and it doesn’t really matter…to calm hurricanes, cool heat waves, and make blizzards go gently into the night. In other words – people got sick of the weather and contrary to that old expression decided to do something about it!!!*

Gerard "Phantom of the Opera" Butler plays Jake Lawson, inventor of Dutchboy – egotist and all around stereotypical smarter-than-thou jerk who ticks off the purse string holding Congress so much they fire him and turn the project over to his younger brother Max played by Jim Sturgess. Three years later Dutchboy inexplicably goes rogue, threatening to bring about a global storm which will result in billions of lives lost so they need to bring Jake back.

And so the interpersonal tensions are set to launch (pun intended) this space centered disaster flick.

Butler is fun as the scene and accent chewing maverick scientist. Sturgess is fine as the more stoic and stickler younger brother, but honestly at 33 Sturgess was distractingly younger than the 48 year old Butler. They should have either chosen an older actor or rejigged the script slightly to make him Jake’s nephew or child. Abbie "Robocop’s wife" Cornish is cute and believable as Sarah Wilson, secret service member and Max’s secret love interest.

Andy Garcia plays President Palma. I have been an Andy Garcia fan since his staircase acrobatics in The Untouchables. Those of you who have seen the movie know of the famous scene and those of you who have not —- should go see it, for that scene alone if nothing else. Though having only a tiny role, Garcia is a pleasure to watch as Palma, functioning, when he is on screen, as the only responsible adult in the room.

So if you’re in the mood for ice cream seek out a Baskin and Robbins. If you hanker for the smell of flowers go to a garden. If you crave a slice of pepperoni pizza call Domino’s. If you want a dip in salt water go to the ocean. But if you feel like seeing a good old fashion roller coaster of a ride disaster movie Geostorm is the ticket (pun intended) for you.

As I said before there are many reliable attributes which can identify the disaster movie. It occurred to me that one could even chart out a bunch from Geostorm and compare them to other weather or space disaster flicks to determine how well they match up against Geostorm's notable number of disaster movie trademarks.

Take a look at the list below. While I’m sure you could come up with lots of other characteristic identifiers these were ones that jumped to my mind about Geostorm. And I think you’ll be amused at the one on the last line (contributed by my son Louis) which, after 2012 comes closest to meeting Geostorm's watermark as I’ve outlined it.

One last thought – it occurred my oldest daughter – Scout – that Geostorm, while a lot of fun as a straight drama action adventure, does SUCH a thorough job of touching on so many other disaster movie cliches that in the hands of someone like Mel Brooks, without changing any of the set up or dialogue, and with only a tiny push in the other direction, could have been made into a parody.

Just sayin’……….

Below find a rough chart I bashed out giving an idea of the kinds of elements often featured in disaster movies. It’s not meant to be exclusive or exhaustive, just enough to point out some of the common threads among them. I’ve only considered ones that I thought most apposite to Geostorm – involving weather and space – and have not included ones which involve, for example, sharks, zombies or dinosaurs.

 

* Old expression attributed to Charles Dudley Warner, American essayist as well as friend and co-author with Mark Twain – "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it."