Saturday, April 27, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #18: NOTTING HILL

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

It’s funny, I’ve always liked Hugh Grant, but until now, I’d never really seen Hugh Grant play his nice guy persona. I have vague memories of seeing FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL long after its release, but the first time I was aware of him was when I read about his lewd conduct arrest in ‘95. The first movie I definitely remember seeing with him in it was BRIDGET JONES, where he plays a cocky asshole and the movie’s villain.

Most recently, I saw him in CLOUD ATLAS where he again plays (among other things) a cocky douchebag. ATLAS has plenty of nice guys in it, but the Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer didn’t ask Grant for a single one. He’s moved beyond his persona indefinitely, it seems! So from this point of view, it was quite interesting to go back to one of his most stereotype-affirming movies, NOTTING HILL.

The story’s fairly simple: Nice Guy Hugh meets and falls in love with Huge Movie Star Julia Roberts. But it’s tough dating a big movie star! She has a busy schedule and it’s hard to meet up. The paparazzi follow her everywhere! They have a crisis, which is somewhat of a funny reveal, but then they make up, but then they have another crisis, and then Hugh and all his wacky friends have to race to a press conference before she leaves the UK.

NOTTING HILL is an amiable, low-stakes movie that elicited a couple of laughs out of me. It’s a testament to Grant that, even when he’s doing obvious schtick, he’s still very likeable. Roberts’ performance is commendably restrained, as her actress character is meant to be pretty beaten down by the life. The movie admirably succeeds in making the life of a movie star seem quite unpleasant (“I’ve been on a diet every day of my life since I was 19.”) and, if anything, you want them to end up together so she’ll have someone nice in her apparently quite shitty life. But that’s where emotional involvement ends, unfortunately. The characters are so thin that it’s hard to get a connection. Hugh is nice, bumbling. Julia is sad, famous. The characters aren’t unlikeable, but they feel a bit empty. I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie was the turning point that made Grant want to drop his schtick.

Dylan Baker’s arch-nemesis Rhys Ifans plays a gross roommate and he’s pretty funny cuz his jokes are about dicks and butts.

I’ll admit that when I felt something, it was in scenes with Hugh’s circle of friends. They all came across as nice people with their shares of ups and downs. The actors (among which Tim McInnerny, Blackadder’s Percy) do a fine job at making them real and pleasant.

It’s not a bad film at all – just an extremely lightweight one. LOVE ACTUALLY, writer Richard Curtis’ next film, fares better because of its nature as a romcom anthology. Don’t like one storyline? Eh, there’s gonna be another one in a few minutes. The Grant-Roberts relationship isn’t interesting enough to carry an entire movie, so you’re kind of sitting there watching sort-of-nice people hang out and make the occasional amusing witticism.

RANDOM NOTES:

Hugh has a book shop, which is already pretty quaint in 2013, but a TRAVEL BOOKS ONLY book shop? Damn son, how do you pay the rent in London?

Hugh wants to meet Julia again, but her junket is running late, so he acts like he’s from a magazine to interview her. My favorite gag in the movie is when he’s asked what magazine he’s from. He looks around in a panic, and his eyes settle on HORSE & HOUND magazine. He literally makes this face at it:

and says “HORSE & HOUND magazine!” to which the publicist just goes “okay sir right this way” without missing a beat. It’s the worst deception I’ve seen in any movie since Aragorn told Eowyn her soup was okay!

Cameos by pre-fame Clarke Peters of The Wire and babbly Mischa Barton of The OC at that very junket! My fiancée is probably the only NOTTING HILL DVD owner that only recognizes the former.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Iron Man 3 is the first Big Comic Book Movie

Whaaaaa? Come on man, we just had AVENGERS. How much bigger and sillier can it get?

Yeah HOLD ON bro

AVENGERS was big and silly and great, but here’s the deal. It was essentially a superhero team origin movie. Which was novel, because we’d never seen a superhero team movie before*, and part of the fun was seeing all the heroes bicker and fight and eventually assemble as Avengers are wont to do.

IRON MAN 3 very much takes place in a post-AVENGERS world. The existence of alien life, the expansion of mankind’s playing field has not only had consequences for Tony Stark’s character, it changed the entire world. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian intones, “Ever since that big dude with the hammer fell out of the sky, the days of “subtle” were over.”

AND HOW

Let me tell you, I was actually not really looking forward to this movie. Downey just slums it through most of his movies nowadays, pretty much counting on his slick charm to tide you over to the credits. While this was true for me personally in the case of IRON MAN 2, I also recognized that it was a pretty shitty fucking movie on its own terms. And after the rollicking Silver Age Hokum that was AVENGERS, why would I want to go back to Tony Stark sitting in his garage for 90 minutes cracking wise at a robot arm and then there’s a fight maybe? While the hiring of Shane Black as director and the reveal of Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin outfit and voice made me somewhat interested, I was expecting to be moderately amused.

I came out of it absolutely in love. Now, a lot of Marvel movies have that effect – “omg I think this was my favorite Marvel movie?” – but I actively went in looking for stuff to nitpick and lol at Kingsley. Holy shit, Marvel gave me a real movie with a plot and character development and everything. We start the movie with Tony having anxiety attacks about the sudden hugeness of the universe. No wait, back up. We start the movie in 1999 with Tony and Happy at a party in Switzerland. The fucking Marvel logo was accompanied by Italian Eurodance outfit Eiffel 65’s BLUE. What a hilariously shitty fucking song! Tony is doing his Tony thing, trying to bed science lady Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), while blowing off science dork Aldrich Killian’s invitation to join a think tank called Advanced Idea Mechanics (or AIM). Tisk tisk, Tony! That’s how you make supervillains! But he couldn’t have known that, it was a pre-AVENGERS world. Besides also featuring Lou Bega’s Mambo #5, this flashback just keeps on giving: turns out that Happy was a big fan of PULP FICTION since 1999 him is hardcore cosplaying Vincent Vega.

Black and co-writer Drew Pearce constantly find little character moments to spruce up proceedings too. Almost every character is laugh-out-loud funny. Several nameless henchmen got big laughs. I don’t know exactly who wrote what, but the Pearce/Black combo works very well. The movie’s humor is sardonic without ever crossing over into misanthropic in a way I thought LETHAL WEAPON kinda was upon revisiting it recently. And man, Black really brings some 80s action sensibilities to the movie: real sleazebag villains and henchmen, cheesy pre-death oneliners, MIAMI MANSIONS**, buddy cop banter***, President William Sadler and VP Miguel Ferrer, …

One thing mercifully left in the 80s is the misogyny. Not only does Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper kick ass, there are several female characters who are not easily pigeonholed (they have at least two dimensions and stuff!). Maya isn’t a femme fatale out to seduce Tony away from Pepper, and the Mandarin has a henchwoman who isn’t defined by sexiness. She’s just a henchwoman who kicks Tony’s ass in a fight scene. Mandarin has some pretty good hiring practices, in fact, since there were a good deal of female mercs under his command in the final battle.

That’s another thing: action scenes – great. Tony is constantly under duress, he’s constantly having to think on his feet. We see him tinker with household appliances to build new shit that isn’t just a new kind of laser for Iron Man. RDJ not wanting to be in the armor all the time actually benefits this movie greatly, cuz there’s some absolutely terrific and inventive action stuff in there. We’re finally reminded in a very visceral way that Tony Stark is one of the smartest guys in the world, and if he doesn’t have his suit, he still has his brain. TONY STARK BUILT THIS IN A CAVVVVEE – Shane Black shows us what awesome shit Stark can build with a DIY store at his disposal.

Besides reminding us that Tony is really smart to back up his cocky douchebaggery, IM3 also reassures us that the highly capable Pepper Potts and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) are Tony’s friends and they care for him. Yeah, Rhodes is a military man who’s slightly more responsible than Tony, but he’s a fun/funny guy. Pepper is not a shrill harridan who lives to spoil Tony’s fun. Happy remains about the same Jar Jar guy he was, but he was fine in the other movies. Fucking JARVIS has more personality than he’s ever displayed. Harley, Tony’s kid sidekick for the second act, is never given cutesy Hollywood kid stuff to do – in fact, when at one point he does, it’s immediately revealed to be an act. Yeah, get this – Tony spends a chunk of the movie in a small tax-breaky Tennessee town (lol classic Marvel), and it’s still pretty amusing and thrilling cuz, you know, he’s investigating shit and discovering new elements of Mandarin’s plot.

To come back to the hit-baiting title of this piece: Why is IM3 the first big comic book movie? Cuz it’s the first movie that feels like it takes place in a Comic Book Universe rather than a world like ours that is invaded by one fantastical element. This is a world where people deal with the fact that Asgard and who knows how many other worlds are real, and where IRON MAN VS THE MANDARIN AND THE LAVA MEN OF AIM is just a thing that happens.

Marvel has learned its lesson. AVENGERS was so huge they don’t need to remind people that they do other movies too by inserting distracting subplots, rather they’ve turned their shared universe into this fascinating background tapestry that informs character actions and motivations throughout a self-contained story. Even the post-credits sequence doesn’t tease any other upcoming releases, it’s just a fun gag with Tony and another big Marvel character.

TONY STARK WILL RETURN, the end credits promise. With the same crew behind it, I’m psyched.

i mean lol

 

*that didn’t exclusively fight SWAT teams in Canadian forests or disgruntled plastic surgeons on New York sidewalks

**I swear that was Johnny Tapia’s mansion

***One of my favorite gags was the Mujahedeen giggling at Rhodes along with Tony when they learn his lame War Machine password.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #17: NEVERWAS

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

A little boy wakes up in an overly color-saturated room. He asks for his dad. Upon not receiving any answer, he proceeds through an overly color-saturated hallway into an overly color-saturated garden. There, he finds his dad’s hanging corpse. A sweating Aaron Eckhart wakes up from his nightmare. Next, we find him driving through a beautiful autumnal New England landscape, as Ian McKellen’s voice tells us the tale of a little boy named Zachary Small and his adventures in a land called Neverwas. Eckhart ends up pulling into the driveway of a mental health institution named Millwood.

I describe these first few minutes of the movie in such detail because at this point, I was still feeling around as a viewer. This is one of those movies I had literally never even heard of, so I popped it in without even reading the DVD cover. Always an exciting proposition! And, you know, dayummmm – dat cast! Vera Farmiga isn’t even credited on the DVD cover, that’s how stacked with good actors this thing is. The writer-director did not ring a bell, but apparently he’s doing that Ashton Kutcher Steve Jobs biopic next, so let’s see if he’ll crank up the hues for that one.

We learn that Eckhart’s dad (Nick Nolte) was a successful children’s author who suffered from manic depression. His big smash hit was Neverwas, whose protagonist Zachary Small was based on his own son Zachary. Hospital administrator William Hurt tries to dissuade Eckhart from the job he’s applying for with the weirdest and lamest excuses ever (“Naww nawww you’re from a fancy college we’re too lame for you!”) but Eckhart really wants it and then Hurt’s like sighhhh okay you can sit in on this group session if you reaallly want it I guess. I’m not sure about this hospital’s hiring practices!

The group session has Alan Cumming and Vera Farmiga in it. Wandering the common room is a mute Ian McKellen as well, whom Hurt assures he’d love to have in his talk group if he ever feels so inclined. Cumming plays Jake, a guy who has problems with his fiancée. Farmiga plays Eleanna, a woman whom Eckhart compliments on having a nice name. Cumming is actually listed on the DVD cover, but he has two scenes and ten lines. I have no idea what his actual deal was, or if it somehow got resolved.

Quirky music (by Phillip Glass!) accompanies a montage of Eckhart getting to know the patients in one-on-one interviews. But… they don’t say funny stuff. In fact… they all seem to have genuine problems. Movie, you are confusing me!

That’s where the movie starts losing it: the set-up is fine, if a little derivative, but it never quite knows how to follow up on it. McKellen is all about the Neverwas book, so at first you think he’s an insane superfan of Nolte’s, but somewhere in act two it is revealed that Nolte met McKellen while he was in treatment for his depression, and just poured all of his ramblings into a children’s book with his own son as the protagonist.

The director of NEVERWAS should basically fall to his knees that he somehow got a hold of Ian McKellen post-LOTR. McKellen is so wonderful, he almost (almost!) makes you believe in the magic of Neverwas. All the actors are good, really, but McKellen is the effortless standout. The movie’s big problem is essentially that both the real world and Neverwas somehow feel undercooked. You get the conflict between Eckhart and McKellen, between Eckhart and his mom, and they even manage to make the half-hearted lovestory between Eckhart and Brittany Murphy feel somewhat relevant due to a small twist regarding her motivations*, but in the end when you see all the real world locations that inspired Neverwas, you just don’t know enough about the book’s world to be all wowe.

McKellen’s past is also shrouded in too much mystery – or mayhaps no one really thought it through? He “sabotaged” a construction site. That’s all we know. Did anyone get hurt/die? I onno! Enough to lock the sumbitch up for years though, transferring him from ward to ward constantly. McKellen manages to escape by somehow letting all the inmates wander the grounds one night, allowing them to dance quirkily and stuff in the moonlight. How McKellen does this is not explained. He says to Eckhart to meet him on the other side of the mountain, and Eckhart and Murphy give chase, wanting to bring him in before the cops hurt him.

So yeah, here’s where Eckhart (who never was too big on his dad’s book) gets helped tremendously by Hermione Murphy who starts recognizing landmarks from Neverwas. They’re almost there when Eckhart says “You have to stay here! Call my lawyer, he’ll know what to do!!” Uhhh okay bro. So there’s a tense stand-off between the police and unarmed McKellen (who is suddenly in Ren Faire geare and also has A FUCKING CASTLE** IN THE WOODS) which then gets defused by Murphy arriving with some sort of document. What that document entails is never revealed, but the sheriff tells his men to stand down. The movie ends with another McKellen VO, Eckhart working happily at the (now very well funded??) institution, and McKellen reigning as the king of Trash Castle. So they dropped all charges and declared him sane enough to walk around? I swear I did not fall asleep during this movie!

NEVERWAS feels like someone wanted to make a BIG FISH but got a little BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA mixed in there and then lucked the fuck out with its cast. It’s not exactly a shit sandwich (mostly due to McKellen), but there is a little layer of shit between the ham and the lettuce.

*But then they squander it and sideline Murphy for the finale, which feels like she really should have been present for, given the character’s love of the book.

**It’s made of trash, but it’s a really impressive structure nonetheless.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #16: DAYWATCH

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

In 2005 I saw Timur Bekmambetov’s NIGHT WATCH in a Belgian theater. I greatly disliked it and found it to be showy and pretentious, eschewing narrative clarity for an overload of visual pomp. Upon finding that Ella had both NIGHT WATCH and its sequel DAY WATCH in her collection, it became one of the movies I was most looking forward to discover. Was I right to dismiss it as an oh-so-mature 20 year old, or have my views (and viewing habits) changed so drastically as to do a complete 180 on this Russian vampire saga?

DAY WATCH follows Anton Gorodetsky, a member of the NIGHT WATCH – a supernatural police force who monitors the Dark Ones. The Day Watch, meanwhile, is another supernatural police force who monitors the Warriors of Light. They must maintain the truce that both factions signed centuries ago, or else face the consequences of the Inquisition (a creepy set of old man twins of ill-defined but great power).

In the first movie, Anton got recruited by the Night Watch as a regular guy to police Dark Ones. Unfortunately, his little son Yegor joined the Dark Ones by the end of that movie – even worse, he became a Great Dark One, a one-in-a-million super powerful example of the breed.

At the start of DAY WATCH, Anton and rookie Svetlana are investigating the attempted murder of an innocent human by some ski-masked ruffian. This turns out to be vampire* kid Yegor, and big boss Dark One Zevulon wants to throw the heat off of his faction by framing Anton for another murder.

Oh wait, back up. The movie REALLY starts with a flashback to medieval times and motherfucking TAMERLANE trying to get at a magic chalk locked up in some Asian fortress. THE CHALK OF FATE! Little did I know at that point that this scene would nicely encapsulates the pros and cons of this movie. On the positive side: Who would have expected a fucking Tamerlane opening where he storms a Persian fortress for a piece of magic chalk? The movie constantly throws these crazy curveballs at you that I’d honestly never see coming. I dozed off twice, and one time I woke up to a Ferrari driving up a skyscraper and the second time Anton had switched bodies with his colleague Olga. But yeah, to go back to Tamerlane for a second there: Tamerlane is trying to find a way into the magic maze to retrieve the magic chalk, but all who ventured within were never seen again. As he is cursing over the map, he accidentally pokes through it… which gives him an idea! He simply commands his armies to bust through the walls. He very cinematically takes lead of the charge and just runs his horse through what seems to be a solid stone wall. Now, the movie hadn’t been going on for very long, so I’m sure I didn’t miss Tamerlane having any magical powers or anything, so… what the fuck? He just ran that horse through a stone wall! And there you have it – the crazy shit is all well and good, but there’s just so much of it, and they throw you in the deep end quite mercilessly, that you’re not sure if it’s part of the wacky world of [x]WATCH or if it’s just a very loose approach to logic.

My experience with DAY WATCH was exponentially better than the one I had with NIGHT WATCH, as I could find a more balanced view of things (seeing it for free probably helped). I wouldn’t come right out and recommend the series, as I still find it a bit humorless and dour. For a movie that has Moscow destroyed by killer yoyos and vampires who remotely suck you dry through magical juiceboxes (!), very few smiles are cracked. I’m guessing this is a cultural thing, as the WATCH series is extremely popular in Russia, and a lot of stuff is just lost in translation.

All in all, I found DAY WATCH a positive experience, for its value as an oddity in the genre world, and as witness to my personal growth as a film watcher.

*I’m pretttty sure Yegor is a vampire. There’s witches and shapeshifters and god knows what else in this movie but they all just look like poor, down-trodden Russians so every scene is a surprise.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #15: NATIONAL TREASURE (both)

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

Here’s a bit of cheating: Ella actually only owns NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS, the second one in the series. I had seen neither entry in the series, so my initial thought was to just write up 2 free of context and consider any confusion or incomprehensible callbacks to the first instances of delightful absurdity. BUT! Ella felt like watching the first one again, so, ever mindful to the pleasure of my dear readers, I decided to just do a DUOLOGY write-up. Lucky all of you!

In 2004’s NATIONAL TREASURE, Nic Cage plays Benjamin Franklin… Gates. Haha, got you excited for a second, huh? Ever since childhood,* BFG has been fascinated with the Treasure of the Templars, the quest for which has shamed the Gates family in the academic community. Grampa Christopher Plummer enjoys telling tales of this mythical bootie, a hint of whose whereabouts was entrusted to Carriage Boy Gates by the last surviving co-signer of the Declaration of Independence way back in America’s prehistory**. Poppa Jon Voight doesn’t want lil’ Cage’s head filled with such nonsense, though! He’s aginn’ it!

The story Christopher Plummer tells baby Ben is accompanied by short flashbacks to Egyptian, crusader and revolutionary times. They don’t look bad or anything, but they have this weird stagey feel to them, like you’re at the Hall of Presidents in Disneyland, only these auto-erotica are super realistic. The treasure of Egypt and King Solomon was found by crusading knights who called themselves… the Templars!

[shot of knights crossing their swords in the air]

I mean yes the Templars were technically knights who went to Jerusalem and came back with riches, but… aw heck, it’s a kid’s movie and it’s not really ABOUT the Templars, so let’s let it slide.

Years later, BIG CAGE is trekking all over the world in search of more clues for the Templar Treasure, financed in his activities by rich UK fat cat Sean Bean. When they find out that the next clue is printed on the back of OMG the Declaration of Independence, Bean suggests they steal it. By the time I had collected my jaw up off the floor following a Sean Bean character’s declaration of villainous intent, Bean and his cronies had left Cage and comic relief computer guy Riley for dead on the ice fields of (let’s say) Canada. Cage wanted to go through proper channels, dammit! But when PROPER CHANNELS rebuff and ridicule Ben and Riley at every turn, he decides to steal it before Bean has a chance to!

The thin motivations each party has make for an extremely low-stakes movie. Sure, Ben wants to clear the Gates family name from being crackpots, but him and his dad aren’t exactly shown to be in dire financial straits or anything. Bean wants the treasure because… actually, I’m not sure. It’s a lot of gold, I guess? It’s certainly no ark of the covenant that he can sell to a foreign power as a superweapon or something. He’s probably just gonna buy caviar and smoke stogies. So at this point we’re just rooting for Cage cuz Bean was quicker to resort to illegality than him.

During the mini-heist to get the Declaration, they hook up with National Archives Director Abigail Chase*** (Diane Kruger) because this movie needs a woman, dammit. We’ll add another one in the sequel! The intrepid threesome soon chases clue after clue that takes them to notable American landmarks like Independence Hall, the USS Intrepid, the National Archives, Trinity Church, etc. where they solve riddles easy enough for a kid audience to participate/not get confused by.

The low stakes and earnest, wide-eyed nature of NATIONAL TREASURE make it a fun time. I mean it’s probably best not viewed with any actual knowledge of history, since you can pretty much poke holes in ANY of the secret history the movie portrays, but I think it has a positive “History is important! Learn stuff!” message coupled with a pleasant 1950s Disney adventure movie atmosphere going for it. When late in the movie a guy falls to his death (the only death in the movie), I was genuinely pretty shocked – just to give you an indication of how pleasant the atmosphere is.

To my surprise, 2007’s NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS actually would have played differently if I had not seen the first one beforehand. Comic relief Riley bought a Ferrari with his share of the treasure at the end of that one, and it gets towed at the start of this one. If I didn’t know it to be his only piece of wealth, I would find myself very aghast at this movie trying to get me to sympathize with a Ferrari owner’s lost Ferrari! Also, he wrote a book about his adventures in the first movie that is clearly marked RILEY POOLE but all the hot girls who come and ask him about it ask him if he is BENJAMIN GATES. No Madam, I am Riley Poole it says so on this book that I am signing and has my picture on it.

I get that the screenwriters (douchily credited as THE WIBBERLEYS) want to make it clear Riley is underappreciated for his contributions to finding the treasure while making some jokes about how this hurts his ego BUT IT DOES NOT WORK because it just seems like Riley is trying to hock his non-fiction at a book store for the differently abled.

In the first movie, Daddy Voight mentions “what little time I had with your mother” mournfully, implying he’s a widower. But it turns out Momma Gates (Helen Mirren) is alive and well, and teaches pre-columbian history at UM – and they fight all sassy-like! Ehhh… okay I guess they went with another interpretation of that line. But then she says she had to raise Ben all by herself while he went off treasure-huntin’! Then don’t complain about “what little time I had with your mother” if you’re off treasure/anaconda-huntin’, Voight!

Anyway THE PLOT – John Wilkes Boothe was part of a Secret Society that was looking for a treasure so they could fund further secession after the war had officially ended. Boothe goes off to the theater to do stuff, I dunno what, while his buddy puts a gun against Thomas Gates’ (yes, THAT Gates!) head in a tavern and tells him to GET TO CRACKIN this code that they found. Rather than prolong this damned war, Gates manages to throw the code into the fire of the tavern’s hearth as the baddie shoots him. When his lil’ babbly Gates that was with him for REASONS cradles his dying poppa in his arms, the baddie cannot find it in his heart to finish the guy off. Even though Thomas dies of his wounds shortly afterwards, I found it charming that the presence of a child deterred a bad guy from shooting a second time. That’s that gentle NATIONAL TREASURE spirit!

Fast forward a few centuries, and confeddit descendant Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) shames the Gates family name by producing the Boothe booklet implicating Thomas Gates in the conspiracy to kill Lincoln. This outrages Cage and Voight, so the race is on to clear the family name. Again! Sorta! Oh, and they’re gonna need to sneak into Abigail’s house since Ben and her broke up since the first movie for reasons. Well yeah okay the reasons are that we need extra conflict in this movie and the Wibberleys aren’t very good at the writing for the screen, but the in-movie reason seems to be because of Abigail’s unfortunate use of conjunctions.

Clue-huntin’ happens again, this time even internationally (with such flash cards as PARIS, FRANCE and LONDON, ENGLAND). Some of the shit they have to get up to is so outlandish, it’s almost a Simpsons joke movie premise. Even if BOOK OF SECRETS is a step down from the first, it’s still hard to actually dislike. Both NATIONAL TREASURE movies use either real locations or impressive sets, so they’re constantly pleasant to watch even if the content isn’t always up to snuff. One thing I did enjoy in the second one over the first were a couple of NIC CAGE freakouts that seem almost transgressive for a kids’ movie, since you’re expecting BAD LIEUTENANT to happen when he makes those eyes.

I found the first one overall quite pleasant and would recommend it for family viewing because of its gentle tone, inquisitive nature and rapid pacing. While the second one retains those things, I just had too many sequel screenplay hackjob niggles to do the same for it. Although director Jon Turteltaub (3 NINJAS) does an adequate job on both movies (the balancing platform set piece at the end of 2 is quite thrilling), the best parts of either of them – basically anything that gets all wide-eyed about history – made me think what a kids’ adventure movie about American history by Spielberg, or even Joe Johnston would have been like. Just like with real American history, the NATIONAL TREASURE franchise is pretty good if you pretend half of it didn’t happen!

*Lil’ Cage is played by the awkwardly androgynous boy from LAST OUNCE OF COURAGE, which I found weird cuz I thought fundies had their own pool of actors and filmmakers.

**Also known as Europe’s last Tuesday.

***What a cool name.