Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Miami Vice (The Movie): My Summertime Guilty Pleasure

Source: Universal Studios

I decided to break the trend of my usual anniversary year film reviews and indulge in a guilty summer movie classic as we go through the midpoint of the summer of 2017. One of my favorite movies to reflect on in the summertime is the 2006 thriller Miami Vice directed by Michael Mann. The film is an modern adaptation of the 1980's television classic that originally starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as the main characters James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. In the series, Crockett and Tubbs are vice-police officers who were sent after high profile drug dealers from various places who all centralized their activities within (or through) the Miami Dade County area of Florida in each episode. The show was known for its flashy photography, cutting edge set designs, fast cars, cigarette boats, and top Billboard chart music. The movie, starring Collin Farrell as Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, would follow a similar path to the series but in a way that was much unexpected to audiences when it was first released. 

Our story begins when Crockett & Tubbs, on assignment in a ritzy nightclub, receive a phone call from a former criminal informant who tells them he was compromised and discovered to be an informant for the police. Fearing for his life the informant reaches out to Crockett for help. When Crockett and Tubbs try to help their informant they learn that he was connected to a group working with a big-time drug trafficker named Jose Yero.  Yero operates out of Haiti and transports drugs into the United States via speed boats (also called "go-fast boats). Our heroes place themselves undercover in an effort to bring down Yero and his drug empire, but they find out early on that Yero is only a small part of a much larger, more menacing drug ring that must be stopped. Things also take a complicated turn when Crockett slowly becomes interested in Isabella, a sophisticated, intelligent woman who is a key player in the drug ring that he must bring down. Crockett and Tubbs must be at their best to try and stop one of the biggest cartels from invading the shores of Miami. 

Miami Vice received a very mixed reaction upon its release in the summer of 2006. In the early 2000's it became trendy for studios to start creating movie adaptations of television series as a way to reinvigorate interest with audiences (presumably to also create interest in sales of DVD box sets of the original shows which started flooding stores everywhere). However, most movie adaptations of television shows being released at that time were more of a spoof or comedic take of the of the original show- for example refer to 2004's Starsky & Hutch or 2005's The Dukes of Hazzard. Miami Vice, while still being an adaptation of the show, was not a comedic spoof or mock of the original show in anyway. In fact it is a very modern, up-to-date, more intense version, strongly depicting the world of narcotics law-enforcement in a way that the show would not have been able to do on network television. It would seem that most people were anticipating a lot of white linen suits, pastel shirts, 1980's pop songs, and a few comedic characters to laugh at interlaced with jokey references to the old show. With this film they receive none of those things, nor does it apologize for being what it is. What audiences instead received was an in-your-face, at times jarring, point of view style story that proceeds at break neck speed with little time to explain what has just happened or what is coming next. It can be argued that the filmmakers were a little presumptuous in assuming general audiences would know and understand some of the fast spoken lingo and and law enforcement references used in a lot of the scenes in the movie, but that just adds to its non-apologetic appeal.

Director Michael Mann had served as Executive Producer for the television series so it was only fitting that he served as a writer, producer, and director for the feature film. Mann has always had a distinctive style with his film making, particularly with epic crime dramas (who can forget 1995's Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro), and he is at the top of his game with this entry. The heavy use of the High-Def camera technology for filming at night mixed with highly stylized sets and locations place Mann's trademarks all over this film and we, as the audience, are given a visual delight. Editors William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell also bring their hard edged, slightly "Bourne Identity"  style of editing which is very effective for the context of this story and the action that comes with it. The musical score pieces for the film were mostly composed by John Murphy who cleverly infuses little nods of music from the Jan Hammer soundtrack of the TV series. There is also a cover of the famous Phil Collins hit "In The Air Tonight"  (performed by Nonpoint) which was very closely associated to the series thanks to a timeless sequence in the show's pilot episode.

As you can tell by my commentary so far I am a big fan of this movie. I remember going into the theater opening night somewhat unsure of how I would react to it; I had mostly lukewarm reactions to these modernized versions of shows that I had loved in my childhood years, but here was one time where the final result exceeded my expectations. Collin Farrell & Jamie Foxx have great chemistry together as the lead characters, the villains are seethingly evil, and honorable mention must be made about Gong Li's wonderful performance as Isabella, the woman who is torn in the middle of this war between right and wrong. I must admit that, in spite of my desire to not compare the movie to the original, it was a tough adjustment to get used to Barry Shabaka Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo over the unforgettable performance given by Edward James Olmos in the series. In defense of Mr. Henley, the role was given much more to work with in the series, but it is still the only aspect of the movie that I thought was a big setback in comparison to the show. The other members of the Vice team, with the exception of Trudy (wonderfully played by Naomi Harris), are also given menial parts in comparison to the series but that is where one must remember that this a modern take on the story and as such is not required to follow the show step for step. 

In the end Miami Vice was summarily written off as a disappointment in terms of the box office- the film earned a total of $163.8 million worldwide on a budget of $135 million which is not good in Hollywood numbers. Interestingly, the foreign box office numbers were much stronger than the final figures to come out of the U.S., but maybe other countries had not been exposed to the series as much in the past (just speculation). This is a tragic result for a very underrated film in my humble opinion. I do hope that as time passes the movie eventually gains a stronger following that respects and enjoys the movie more than audiences did in the summer of 2006. I have loved this film from the first time I saw right through the other week when I went back to watch it in preparation for this review. When the movie was released on home video in December of 2006 it was released as a "Director's Cut" which included scenes not originally shown in theaters. I did not find the Director's Cut adding much to what I already thought was a solid movie but it also did not take away from the final product either. 

I strongly recommend giving this movie a chance or, if you have let some time pass since you last saw it, giving it a look with fresh eyes. I assure you that you will be highly entertained. 

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Opinion: Adam West & Roger Moore: Two Icons Whose Admiration Developed With Age

Source: Twentieth Century Fox
Source: MGM Studios

For many fans of 1960's & 70's TV and movies, the summer of 2017 will be remembered as a somber time. Within the scope of a few short weeks we lost two great icons, Adam West and Sir Roger Moore. Both were icons of the of their time and the impressions they left on fans will remain forever.  While I reflected on the loss of these two stars of mine and many others' childhood, I was amazed to discover the similar paths their took as reflected by how the people loved them in the highlight of their careers as well as the years that followed.

Adam West exploded onto the TV scene in 1966 when he was cast as Batman on the popular Twentieth Century Fox series. "Batman" was an instant hit with audiences thanks to it's nearly perfect blend of camp humor, slapstick action, and daring-do that appealed to both children and adults. The show was the epitome of the old expression "the candle that burns twice a bright burns twice as fast"- while being insanely popular in it's release, the show only lasted three seasons before the luster wore off with viewers (honorable mention must be made of the fact that the short lived show also included a moderately successful full length feature film during it's run). One of the great secrets to the show's success was Adam West's exceptional ability to play the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman immensely dead-pan and quite serious in contrast to the absurdity of the plots and villains of each episode. Reflecting back on the show as an adult (I, like many others, not only loved the show in reruns as a small child but I swore whole heartily that the show was to be taken very serious) you can see where the creators and West himself were genius to let the Batman remain serious and dead pan as a means to let the guest villains shine through.
Adam West at the height of Batman's popularity gracing the cover of Life Magazine.
Source: Life-Time Magazine

West was in fact, so suave and debonair as millionaire Bruce Wayne that following the end of the show's run West was briefly considered as a potential replacement for the role of James Bond following Sean Connery's departure. This however did not pan out and West himself admitted that he would not have accepted the role of 007 since he felt the role belonged to someone who was genuinely British. This brings us to Sir Roger Moore, the man who would in fact take the mantle of 007 into the 1970's after Connery did a one-off return to the role in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever (honorable mention must also be made to George Lazenby's one time effort as James Bond in 1969).  Whereas Adam West was not as well known prior to his being cast in Batman (he mostly had bit roles in TV and movies), Roger Moore had been pretty well established thanks to some success he had on a few different television series through the 1950's-1960's. Moore was most notably known as Simon Templar in the series "The Saint" which ran from 1962-1969. Moore's portrayal of Simon Templar most likely played a big part in the Bond film producers considering him for the role of Bond. Be that as it may, the announcement of Moore's casting as 007 brought a lot of excitement as well as intrigue to fans of the series. Would Moore play 007 differently than he played Simon Templar or would he just be The Saint walking around calling himself James Bond?- How will Moore compare to Sean Connery, largely considered the best actor to play James Bond? What fans soon discovered was that Roger Moore would in fact play James Bond the best way possible- with his own style.
Roger Moore- Working "tirelessly" to maintain his James Bond image
Source: MGM Studios
This is where I began to find things intriguing about these two actors. Both, while immensely popular during their time in their respective roles (based on successful ratings and box office returns), seemed to be frequently frowned upon by large masses in conversation. During my childhood years most people would say "Oh I don't watch Roger Moore as Bond- he's too goofy compared to Sean Connery". When Tim Burton's Batman came out in 1989 it became common for people to write off the Batman TV series because it wasn't the dark, brooding, more serious version of the character that was widely accepted by the die hard fans of the modern day. It was almost as if people felt the need to belittle the 1960's show just to be accepted by the new wave of Batman fans. Around this same time (1987 specifically) Timothy Dalton took over the role of 007 after Roger Moore had finished his 12 year run as the character. Then the negativity was even more rampant because Dalton's take on the character of Bond was deadly serious with no time for gags and jokes (the tag line for Dalton's first Bond film was "The Most Dangerous Bond- Ever").  Being just a teen during these years I was left scratching my head at these sentiments. Sure, at the time I would freely admit that I loved Timothy Dalton's Bond over Roger Moore's version, and I easily loved Michael Keaton's version of Batman over Adam West's, but that never meant that I didn't have a great affection the latter two. Roger Moore was the first Bond I was exposed to both on TV and in the cinema, and Adam West was the first Batman. Just for the fact that they were the first actors to bring Batman and Bond to life meant that they would always have a special place in my heart for what they did to instill my love for the characters. For years these general reactions seem to persist and I remained puzzled- I believed that there had to be a loyal fan base for these two legends. Thankfully the "information age" took hold of the world and the ability people had to express themselves to a larger audience allowed some voices to be heard to people in places that previously would not have been reached. As the years progressed and the world changed the shift in perception slowly began to evolve, but the tragedy was that it took so many years to finally hear people be more in the positive when discussing Ward or Moore.

Now in reflection of their passing I am left with a sense of added joy, knowing that my love for them never wavered from the beginning to the end. Even after all of the great Batman films that have been made, Adam West's 1966 Batman: The Movie remains one of my favorite Batman films because of how it captured me as a child.  When discussing the subject of James Bond I have stated that Pierce Brosnan is my favorite actor to play the role because he was a solid balance of the qualities I liked in Connery as well as the qualities I liked in Roger Moore. In spite of this fact one would swear that Roger Moore was my favorite Bond after seeing my 007 collection because the majority of what I have and hold dear are things connected to Sir Roger. I certainly am not trying to portray an image that no one liked these two but at the same time it felt important to me to express my appreciation for what they have meant to me and always will. It was so heartwarming and humbling to hear so much love and admiration expressed by people following their passing. I hope that they were overwhelmed too as they look down from the heavens with the same joy and appreciation they gave to us for so many years before.