Rock The Kasbah

Goofy Bill Murray. It’s an act America has laughed at since his SNL days and Rock The Kasbah delivers a heaping helping. This amusing movie has a feel-good redemption factor, but the reason to see Rock The Kasbah is Murray being Murray.

Richie Lanz (Murray) is a small time L.A. talent agent who may or may not have been somebody at one time. His office is in a motel in Van Nuys. In the opening scene he signs to rep a singer of questionable talent after she agrees to pay him $1,200 upfront.

When his act Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) is booked as an opening act on a U.S.O. tour of bases in Afghanistan, Richie flies with her to Kabul. After Ronnie bails and takes his money, Richie pals around with two Americans (Danny McBride and Scott Caan) who are selling weapons on the down low.

At a club in a sketchy part of town, Lanz meets a gorgeous hooker (Kate Hudson) who develops affection for Richie.

When Lanz escorts a weapons delivery to a remote village he hears a young woman (Leem Lubany) singing in a cave and finagles a way to bring her to Kabul to sing on Afghan Star, an American Idol copy. This does not sit well with her father (Fahim Fazli), a man with a menacing glare, but Lanz attempts to smooth over the angst.

Yes, Rock the Kasbah has a convoluted plot that goes in multiple directions. The pace of RTK bogs down a bit around its midway point before powering up to a big finish.

Rock the Kasbah has a cool soundtrack, but does not include Rock The Casbah by The Clash! There are a couple of versions of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home, plus Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door and Zooey’s version of Meredith Brooks’ Bitch. Murray entertains native Afghans with a goofy rendition of Smoke on the Water.

Bruce Willis appears as a mercenary who’s looking for something big to happen that will fuel sales of the book he intends to write.

Rock The Kasbah is not as strong a movie as last year’s Murray starrer St. Vincent. That movie had heart. And a cute kid.

But if you enjoy Bill Murray as his charming goofiest, Rock The Kasbah satisfies.

A Good Day to Die Hard

I like things that go boom.

A Good Day to Die Hard puts NYC policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Russia to visit his son Jack (Jai Courtney). Shortly after arriving, John encounters Jack, says a quick hello and gets involved in a spectacular car chase. The chase produces enough vehicle carnage to populate St. Louis’ biggest junkyard.

In short order, John learns that Jack is a CIA agent who is trying to get a political prisoner out of Russia. The prisoner wants to bring along his daughter, but the rendezvous with his offspring results in the prisoner’s being taken away by bad guys.

Willis maintains his trademark smirk throughout the film, dropping quips almost as frequently as he drops bad guys. There’s a bit of father/son bonding as dad helps his kid through some tight spots. Seems Jack has some resentment. He felt his father’s work as a cop kept him away from the family too much. At one point during their day of violent mayhem, they mention that they’ve sort of enjoyed the togetherness, such as it is.

Along with car crashes, A Good Day to Die Hard delivers voluminous amounts of gunplay, featuring automatic weapons that never seem to run out of ammo. The film is bookended by huge explosions: a Moscow courthouse bombing shortly after the opening and a copter crash at the finale. (Hope that’s not too much of a spoiler.)

A Good Day to Die Hard does not have a lot of in-your-face anger. Because of its quick pace, there’s not a lot of time to build tension. Many longtime fans of the Die Hard movies are not exactly saying Yippee-Ki-Yay in their online comments. But AGDTDH is kinetic, with action aplenty. And many things that go boom.

 

 

 

 

Looper

“Looper” is a mildly entertaining time travel sci-fi film with three likable stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt.

Time travel is often used as a gimmicky crutch, as in the TV series “Lost.” To build a whole movie around time travel is risky. When a character interacts with his older self, things can get confusing. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, Joe, at different ages.

The movie is set in a not-especially-futuristic-looking 2044. Most of their vehicles appear about the same as those we drive today—except for that one cool jet-powered scooter. In 2044, time travel has not yet been developed. But 30 years beyond, time travel has been perfected. But it’s only used by the bad guys.

Because, we are told, it’s hard to dispose of human bodies in 2074, mob hits are accomplished by sending the poor suckers back to 2044 where they are quickly offed and tossed into a furnace. Among those sent back to be killed are older versions of some of those young assassins. They “loop” back, hence the title.

One looper who is sent back—the older Joe—escapes death at the hand of his younger self. He begins a mission to kill a 2044 vintage kid, before he grows up to become a gang leader called The Rainmaker. Still with me? This is where Emily Blunt comes in. She is a single mom, living in a rural farm house with her precocious child. Her kid may the one who would become the Rainmaker. The boy does have some mighty anger issues!

Jeff Daniels gives a standout performance as a crime boss with a wicked sense of humor.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strange makeup (presumably to make him even slightly resemble Bruce Willis) gives him odd-looking lips and eyes. Emily Blunt sounds like a native-born American, squelching her limey accent.

“Looper’s” plot is messy. The movie’s pace hits the brakes just past its midway point. And the sci-fi lacks those “oh, wow” effects/settings/technology that you expect in a movie like this one.

“Looper” is not a bad movie, just one that needs more truly compelling content. One might presume that writer/director Rian Johnson figured the time travel bit might be a strong enough frame to build the movie on. Not quite.

Moonrise Kingdom

Did you have romantic fantasies when you were 12? Some of us did.

On the brink of puberty, we knew we liked the opposite gender, even if we did not know exactly why. That’s sort of the situation with Sam and Suzy. They run away together and set up camp at a spot they call “Moonrise Kingdom.”

This is a quirky movie from Wes Anderson, a director known for quirky films. But “Moonrise Kingdom,” while quirky, is not so weird that it will put viewers off. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” there is quirkiness, but there is also a great story. And the two main characters, Sam and Suzy (played by unknowns Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, making their movie debuts) are immensely likeable.

The story is set in 1965 on a fictional island off the coast of New England. Suzy leaves her home (and quirky parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) while Sam leaves his Khaki Scout troop (and quirky scoutmaster, played by Edward Norton). The parents and the scouts attempt to track them down, along with help from the island’s police chief, played by Bruce Willis.

Along their journey, we learn about the kids and their backgrounds. We see in a flashback how they met at a church on the island the previous summer and continued their relationship via mail correspondence. Suzy reads her favorite books (all creations of Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola) aloud to Sam.

It’s an idyllic time they spend together, despite the constant overcast conditions, which lead to a big storm at the movie’s climax. These are two kids whose lives so far are generally unhappy, who are now greatly enjoying one another’s company. For anyone who had unfulfilled romantic fantasies at age 12, it’s a joy to see these two together.

Among the many quirks in “Moonrise Kingdom,” one of my favorites is the way Suzy’s mom often communicates with family members—with a bullhorn. Another, as with most Wes Anderson films, is the genre spectrum of the soundtrack. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” it ranges from classical music to Hank Williams, Senior.

Is this a movie for everyone? No, not hardly. But if you are up for a sweet story, with interesting (I’ve used quirky too much in this review already) characters presented in Wes Anderson’s special universe, give “Moonrise Kingdom” a shot. I loved it!