Sunday, 30 November 2008

Odd movies

This is just a collection of random thoughts from someone who has been in the mood to watch dumb movies for the past day.

Well save one. I did watch Breach, the movie about an FBI guy who sells secrets to the Russians over fifteen years, played by Chris Cooper, who is being watched closely by an underling, played by Ryan Phillippe, who's trying to catch him out. This is a good but not great movie. Objectively I would says its the best film I saw of the bunch that I watched yet isn't as much fun as the dumber stuff. It's about liars but is a bit self-serious. It really is lacking in wicked fun. The director Billy Ray, also made Shattered Glass, another film about a liar, which was also good but had the same fatal lack of humour. I'm not suggesting making them comedies or ignoring the damage the central characters do but at least have a sense of humour, have some fun with the wickedness of the central character. perhaps make those chasing him a little less noble, more messed up, ambitious, less mouthpieces of morality, so the drama can have some bite. It does have some terrific subtle sparring scenes between the two actors. Cooper is great, both scene to scene and later, when you realise the performance does make sense when you think of the various facets of the central spy, who is a man of many contradictions. Phillippe does well with the under-written young innocent guy part, is again showing signs of being an interesting actor on the make, who just needs to age a little. Laura Linney also shows up, as the agent over-seeing the investigation. She's got all the exposition yet manages to suggest someone human. It's an excellent, spare performance. So the film is worth seeing.

The other stuff is pure hokum and all the more fun because of it. To start with a Roger Moore Bond, For Your Eyes Only. This one was where Moore started to show his age, and would have been better if they had changed to Dalton here, would have had some real charge in this story, which has lots of diving, foot chases, hanging out of helicopters, lots of scenes for a young man. (Octopussy and View To A Kill have the same problem, amazing stunt, cutting to a man in his mid-fifties looking old, back to amazing stunt. Which is fun in a different sort of way.) But after a shaky first twenty minutes, the film does have a decent plot of double-crosses and Greek smugglers which you can follow, has some terrific action beats (especially a snow chase and a final mountain climb), and despite his age, you do have Moore. I used to dislike these Moore films, when I was being a little pretentious in my late teens, but really Bond played by Moore is a blast. He shows Brosnan how campy Bond should be done.

From sublime hokum to ridiculous hokum. Mission Impossible 2. My sister got me this for Christmas one year. I used to not think much of it, of it being a weak follow-up to the terrific DePalma film, which copied set-pieces (another hi-tech break-in but this one has no tension) and has a really dumb plot (man decides to kill millions to profiteer on shares to sell the cure, even though if he has the cure it shows he was likely the perpetrator). The film is directed by John Woo and lacks a lot of his usual shoot-him up style. Its also essentially a rip-off of a great Hitchcock film Notorious (man sends in a woman who he is in love with to spy on another man, who has they key to the plot, who once had a relationship to the woman). The script is by Robert Towne, his worst ever in lots of ways (it goes from decent scenes to clunky scenes with abandon). So lots of talent and the film never works as a high-speed Mission Impossible film. But time has been kinder to it than expected. Away from the expectations, it kind of works in its own dumb way. Woo is way over the top in direction, a lot of it cheesy but it kinda works in a comic way. And the villain is a total beast, is actually oddly more sympathetic and a Woo-like creature than Cruise (he has a great bit with a scarf and has a henchman who's obviously in love with him). Its kind of like Hard Target, where it jumps between good stuff and utter tosh, and is riddled with Cruise doing ridiculous action moves that he thinks looks good but are just so funny (like Van Damme). But it has aged well into being a slightly guilty-pleasure movie, far better than expected. And its way more entertaining and cinematic than the TV-like part 3, which had action which you couldn't follow and a plot that you couldn't care enough to poke holes in.

Now to the films I couldn't sit through. Started to watch Wicker Park, which had a decent plot (I fast-forwarded through it on realisation that the film was defeating me, and it should have worked) but has terrible direction by Paul McGuigan. The film had good shots at times then really dull ones thus had no momentum, pace or story-telling that you could focus on. It was about obsessive love but was shot cold, never felt that there was any build or character. It was like watching a series of shots that didn't connect. It was alienating even in the most basic set-ups that someone like DePalma could have made brilliant. It's lead Josh Hartnett, who I've liked in other films, was awful here. I could sense what he was meant to suggest from story fragments but never saw it ever in his acting (I use the term charitably for this film). Twenty minutes in and I couldn't take it anymore. No-one was doing their job properly and I'd had enough. So I did a quick fast-forward to get the general idea if I was missing anything, wasn't.

Also tried to watched another old Christmas gift out of basic curiosity, which also lasted about twenty minutes, Van Helsing. Now I saw and kinda liked this on release (but I was hung-over at the time so who knows) but since I got this film I've tried to get through this thing and failed. Its just so stupid. It never takes a break from being stupid and soiling the monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Jekyll and Hyde) that it uses. Just terrible. Hopefully my lust for pulp has been sated and I can move on. I blame Wicker Park. That was the first one I tried to watch and it sent me to inanity afterwards by its awfulness.

Till next time. Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.

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