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Monthly Archives: May 2012

I cover the first two pictures here: www.filmvetter.com/2012/04/30/paranormal-activityparanormal-activity-2-4-stars/

Nothing new to report, except that installment three is even scarier.  One particular trick of note:  while trying to capture the “ghost” on videotape and cover two rooms, our hero puts a camera on an oscillating fan, so it goes from left to right and back again slowly.  Brilliant.  Everytime you get that vantage point, you’re terrified of what will be in frame.

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Cruise is BACK!  But is it likely you missed him?  His super spy Ethan Hunt is doggedly disinteresting.  So, fantastic action set pieces (a breakout from a Russian prison, a break-in and demolition of the Kremlin, a car chase in a sandstorm, a finale in a modern multi-story parking garage) are made less exciting because you’re not invested  The action sequences are first-class, especially a high wire act outside the Burj Khalifa, but if you don’t care if Cruise falls, does it matter?

Cruise spends huge chunks of this picture running really fast and very far (it’s more The Gods Must Be Crazy than Casino Royale).  Endurance becomes the primary facet of his character.  Moreover, 2/3 of his team (Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) are very dull (Simon Pegg, as the technical wizard, is not and provides most of the laughs).

With the exception of the upcoming Dark Knight picture, The Avengers is of the same stripe as the films previewed before it (Spiderman, Battleship) – loud, visually thrilling, punctuated by the wisecracks of people in a maelstrom, and loud.  The Avengers includes a slew of Marvel characters, almost all of whom have had their own loud, visually thrilling films: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk join The Black Widow, Nick Fury and Hawkeye to fight Thor’s power-hungry brother Loki.  Since they are a varied group of personalities, they bicker, trade philosophy (Fury would be the Dick Cheney of the group; Iron Man the Barack Obama), and crack wise (Robert Downey’s Iron Man/Tony Stark gets almost all the nifty lines).

Loki comes to rule and it takes the Avengers fighting his flying army of space creatures in NYC to demonstrate that Earth is not some defenseless denizen of sheep.

Really though, he is not nearly scary enough (he looks like the second banana in Wham!) and you never get the sense he’s that big a threat.

The picture is dizzying, occasionally funny, well-paced but really, really long and immediately forgettable.

Walter Hill is a workmanlike director.   He makes some decent and intriguing films (The Warriors, Southern Comfort, Geronimo), and a fair amount of bad ones (Red Heat, Last Man Standing, Extreme Prejudice) and good or bad, the pictures are little more than macho shoot ’em ups where brawn and bullets win the day.  Hill’s commercial pinnacle was probably 48 Hours, the buddy-cop film that vaulted Eddie Murphy into the stratosphere.

The Long Riders is his masterpiece.   The story of the James-Younger (and Miller) gang, Hill cast the Keaches as Frank and Jesse James, the Carradines as the three Youngers, and the Quaids as the Millers (he also throws in the Guest brothers as the duo who eventually shoot Jesse).  It comes off not in least bit gimicky.  Hill comfortably alternates the mythic and the mundane about the brothers, and there is a naturalness to the interplay between the men that makes every scene easy and true.  Brothers in life portray convincingly as brothers in film.

Hill also provides a rich facsimile of Peckinpah-style screen violence, while setting forth a keen depiction of rural tradition and family loyalty . His scenes in the Missouri woods, while the gang hides out, are well-crafted and authentic, his Texas bar fight by Bowie knife is inspired Western legend, and the Northfield, Minnesota bank debacle is unforgettably haunting.  Hill shoots high speed escape by horse interspersed with slow-motion shots of the gang being shot up, commensurate with an eerily slow-soundtrack that purports to track the actual bullet and its impact above the slooooooow distorted sounds of hoof beats, screams, horse whinnies, and thuds. The scene is bravura, a milestone in action filmmaking.

The tensions between the gang, and the brothers, are summed up in the woods outside of Northfield, where Frank and Jesse -w who can move – and the Youngers, who are too shot up to escape, say their bitter yet still faithful farewells, most of it non-verbally.

The best feature is Pamela Reed as Belle Starr.  She steals the movie from the brothers, presenting as of the time.  Reed is not beautiful by a long shot, but her strength is undeniably alluring.  Her exchanges with Robert Carradine are memorable, especially the second one, as she sits, dressed to the nines on her carriage in the street, uninvited to a Younger wedding.

I love this picture because it has one foot in the myth of the West and another in its grimy, brutal reality, it is at once entirely unsentimental and yet, through the understated depictions of the family, moving.

1.  The Patriot‘s director, German born Roland Emmerich, is not quite a hack of Renny Harlin’s status, but his resume’ is filled with a boatload of crappy, excessive, ludicrous films such as 201210,000 BC, The Day After TomorrowGodzillaIndependence Dayand Universal Soldier.  And The Patriot.

2.  The Patriot is a revenge movie set during The Revolutionary War.  Revenge movies are fine.  But a revenge movie fails if the person upon whom revenge must be visited is blase’ about his own life or death.  In The Patriot, the villain (a British officer played by Harry Potter baddie Jason Isaacs) is a vicious killing machine with no desire to live other than to burn women and children alive.  So, short of having his skin peeled off, there can be no satisfaction in his demise.  And there is none.  Which, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, makes this a very long, hard slog.

3.  The Patriot veers wildly from the manipulative (excess depictions of crying and/or dying children) to the sitcomish (Saving Private Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat  uses tension-breaking quips between men-in-war and then expands them into broad cartoonish gag scenes worthy of “The Jeffersons”) to near-spoofs of beer commercials (the slow-motion as men high-five after winning the big battle is missing only the bosomy blondes and frothy pitchers of ale, and the scene where Gibson gets romantic with Joely Richardson is a replica of Corona commercials).

4.  The best part of the movie is when Gibson appears heroically, flag in hand, and all the militia scream “Huzzah!” but it sounds exactly like “Wazzzzzzzzzuuuuuuuuup!”

5.  The Patriot is predictable.  If you don’t know whose life the stoic black-man-fighting for his freedom will save; if you don’t know that the moment Gibson gives his daughter-in-law a necklace, it is proof of her death; if you don’t know the “trick” played on the Brits to gain the release of American militia; if you don’t know the fate of a warship off in the distance as the Brits live the high-life and general Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson moans about his less-than-spectacular uniform), you are not very observant.

6  There are a few historical inaccuracies.  My favorite is the use of exploding cannonballs.  They hadn’t been invented yet, but you can just see Emmerich screaming “I vant it BIGGER!!!!!!”  And when Isaacs character burns an entire church filled with women and children, based on an incident from World War II when Nazi soldiers burned a group of French villagers alive, I’m sure Emmerich was there screaming, ‘I vant him MEANER!!!!!!”.

You can find this flick in the Scent of a Woman aisle, next to all the other “Young man taught life lessons by crippled mentor, but it looks as if the crippled mentor could learn a lesson or two as well” films.  Except, this time, nobody says “Hoo-wa!” but rather, “Punch the keys!”

Like Al Pacino, Sean Connery plays William Forrester (a J.D. Salingeresque recluse who befriends a gentle student) as both crotchety and haunted.  His charge is a fresh-faced underclass kid (Rob Brown) who is attending a tony NY private school.

“I’ve got a stupid hat????”

In both films, the nemesis is a priggish, empty-suit of an educator who does his dastardly deeds mainly out of insecurity and spite. The bad guy in Finding Forrester (F. Murray Abraham) is actually really, really bad.  He tries to railroad our hero by accusing him of plagiarism (Brown is writing under the tutelage of Connery).  At one point, he actually whispers to Brown,  “Don’t ever embarrass me in front of my class again.”

In Scent of a Woman, the day is saved by the appearance of Pacino at the honors trial of poor, fresh-faced Chris O’Donnell.  In Finding Forrester, Connery makes the same entrance at the school, but instead of speaking up for the boy, he (SPOILER) slits F. Murray Abraham’s throat with an unseen dagger.

Okay, Connery doesn’t do that  He pretty much does the same thing Pacino did, just a little less loud.

This is by-the-numbers schmaltz, made just a little more bearable because director Gus Van Sant makes things visually interesting; rapper Busta’ Rhymes is around for a few yucks; and, Al Pacino is not in it.