Red Heat: a Russian and American cop are forced together to capture a nasty drug dealer that’s killed their colleagues on both sides of the globe. With the opening sequence starting in a nearly-nude Soviet sauna/spa and culminating in a naked snow-fight you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally bought a gay porno; and when you’re finally settling back in to the movie… BOOM… another homoerotic shower scene with Arnie. The rest of the film is pinned on the culture clash of a stereotyped disciplined and ‘barbaric’ Soviet paired with a schlubby ‘wimpy’ American – aren’t culture clashes funny? LOL! We get everything from misunderstood slang (“You’re shitting me?” / “I’m not shitting on you”) through to plain old “I give up: this whole thing is very Russian!” <rolls eyes>. It sounds hammy, and some of it is, but it’s entertaining and carries the film: distracting you from the generic plot. It’s one of Arnie’s more challenging roles at that point, and he just about pulls it off as an Austrian speaking English with a Russian accent (MIND BLOWN!), which has led to the film becoming a cult movie in Russian speaking territories. It’s light on action, but when guns are blazing it’s satisfactory and brainless stuff like firing a six-shooter 18 times without reloading, and a Chicago bus carnage finale. Tonally, the film straddles a gulf between the wacky and light-hearted cop-pairing, and an ultra-evil bad guy / drugs / violence / nudity angle. Released in the mid-1980s – before the end of the Cold War – I suspect it had more going for it; however, looking back, it’s pretty unremarkable. Red Heat is a buddy-cop movie that ticks the boxes, but isn’t quite funny or action-packed to stand out.
“Moscow’s toughest detective. Chicago’s craziest cop. There’s only one thing more dangerous than making them mad: making them partners.”
Mission Impossible III (M:i:III, M:I-3): the impossible missions force’s (IMF) best agent, Ethan Hunt, is brought out of retirement when an arms dealer kills his protégé, then kidnaps his fiancé. The action set-pieces are what make this film: there’s a quality raid on Berlin building; impossibly intricate Vatican mission, Shanghai rooftops, and a sustained climactic ending – action fans can’t really ask for more. The only let-down is the lack of an ‘Impossible’ break in attempt, which is the linchpin of – and arguably best things about – the previous two films. It’s far less po faced than other contemporary spies like Bourne and rebooted Bond: moments like Cruise singing “We are family”, and a few tongue-firmly-in-cheek nods to Cocktail and Top Gun are the cherries atop a full-fat everybody-having-fun cake. Even Cruise’s running is funny to watch – perhaps his version of the Arrested Development chicken dance? Although it’s overall funnier, Seymour–Hoffman’s villain is the most callous and dangerous yet, he does well with his screen time. With a decent script, huge cast (Ving Rhames is back!) and another proficient director (JJ Abrams) putting his lens flared stamp all over it, Mission Impossible III is a great popcorn action movie with some gratuitous emotions thrown in; although it’s probably the least memorable or original entry in the franchise so far.
Mission Impossible II
Mission Impossible III
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Rudderless: after his son dies in a school shooting a grieving father finds his musical demos; learns them, plays them live and inadvertently ends up in a band that’s becoming successful. It’s all about the music, kind of like that film Once, but doesn’t suck hairy Irish balls. The musical aspect of this is solid; with believable songs and a good portrayal of gigging, jamming, the minutia of band life etc. The plotline is also an interesting take on taboo/sensitive material, and runs along nicely – if a little slowly – until the last act where it becomes more of a paint-by numbers affair, as the loose ends get tied up. Performances are top drawer too; Crudup is strong, and pulls you right in to his situation – it helps that he can play guitar and sang. Fishbourne steals all his scenes, and it’s clever casting Selena Gomez in despite being in 2 just scenes. Some would probably point out that the characters are thin, but it feels deliberate, in order to force the audience’s interest – enough subtle hints are laid out in the script for you to piece things together, and only key elements are eventually explicitly mentioned in the dialogue. The only major thing that bugged me was the continuous non diegetic music trying to manipulate you in to feeling what William H Macy wants as each scene plays out. As far as directorial debuts are concerned, WHM couldn’t have done much better; an interesting and compelling story, well acted, shot and edited – but was just a little too low-key / indie / shoe-gazing to fully enthrall.
PFR is marking the 500th post by putting up a bunch of DVD extras this week. This guest paragraph review is from Fogs at Fogs Movie Reviews; an awesome review site that generates a LOT of discussion about films.
Searching for Bobby Fischer: Directed by noted screenwriter Steve Zaillian (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, Schindler’s List), “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is an intimate look at the challenge of growing up “gifted”. It’s the story of young Joshua Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc), and what happens when it’s discovered that he’s a chess prodigy. Joe Montegna and Joan Allen play young Josh’s parents, and the two do a great job of showing the pride, anxieties, and inner conflicts involved in raising a brilliant child. How far do you push him? How much time do you have him dedicate to his gift vs a “normal” childhood? As they begin to train Josh and enter him in competitive events, he meets two very different mentors. One is a “speed chess” hustler in Washington Square Park (Lawrence Fishburne), and the other is a very exclusive, private, traditional tutor (Ben Kingsley). The two clash over the boy’s training, as you might imagine, but the true conflict of the film revolves around just how hard a child should be pushed to grow up, to compete, and to hone a killer instinct that might jeopardize the innocence of youth. With such a great cast (it also features small roles by William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya, and Laura Linney), and such a compelling story, “Searching for Bobby Fischer” winds up being a very moving, heartfelt film. It’s sitting at 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert gives it four stars, and I myself recommend it very highly.
Contagion: as a lethal virus spreads rapidly around the globe – we observe as the government, pharmaceutical industry and everyday people struggle through the pandemic. It’s always good to see an ensemble cast this big, but with the numbers involved some people go +30 minutes without an appearance, and each person’s angle feels underdeveloped. Too single one person; out I can’t tell if it was Jude Law, or the ridiculous blogger / twitter journalist he was playing, but that strand was just terrible. Other than the devastating virus and ensuing medical procedural hunt for a cure, there’s no single dominant story; there’s a slow build-up, mildly tense middle, and it ends quite abruptly as we just stop dipping in and out of the characters lives. Unlike most blockbusters the science is very realistic (on good authority from my buddy with a Master’s in Cellular Immunology). With the ultra realism in both content and a simple, minimal directorial style, you’re left with a ‘film’ that feels more like a discovery documentary / re-enactment – but with some familiar faces. The final product is a mildly depressing, Dell sponsored, montage heavy film that tries to juggle too much, with very little focus.
Mystic River: drama/mystery that follows three childhood friends in Boston from a day that changed all of their lives forever. Acting-wise, this is an absolute powerhouse of a roster with too many big names to do justice; Penn‘s passion and attitude are outstanding – a career-defining role for him, Bacon‘s awesome at staying cool and reserved, Fishbourne‘s flawless as a badass cop, Robbins is great at portraying a man on the edge, and hell, even the bit-part boyfriend’s hyper believable… everyone involved is outstanding. Technically, the film’s a masterpiece. Every shot is picturesque, the detail’s all there, the camerawork is spot-on, the direction is simple but effective and the lighting in particular adds a whole other dimension to the film – most noticeable with Robbins, who’s progressively lit to look more crooked and bizarre as the film goes on. The final product is haunting, atmospheric and unbelievably gripping as it builds up to the finale. On paper, this is as depressing a story as any other Eastwood film of late – but with a cast this strong, great pacing and simple storytelling this a proper tour de force – and while it is quite bleak, that’s where all of the mystery and drama comes from. in a nutshell, this is simply a great film.
The Matrix: Action. Adventure. Sci-Fi. Technology. Love story. Tragedy. Mythology. Drama. Explosions. Chases. Fighting. Guns. Lots of Guns. Style. Homage. Technological Advances. Solid acting. Vision. Betrayal. Great characters. Fantastic Soundtrack & OST. Tight script. Mouth-watering visuals. Slick editing. Stunning concept… Absolutely everything about The Matrix is pitch perfect, right down to Reeves’ vacant, and emotionally retarded acting – it just fits the film so well! (Will Smith/Nicholas Cage were first choices for Neo!) Hugo weaving is also brilliant as the borderline pantomime baddie. The fight scenes are outstanding, especially given that none of the actors are martial artists. Unlike 99% of films out there The Matrix is absolutely all killer – every single scene has a purpose. It’s been a career-defining film for everybody involved, and rightly so: cast, directors, tech teams etc. Even over ten years on everything about this is still so, so, so cool. It’s a modern Alice in Wonderland, but where Alice cartwheels while firing a machine gun and bends some spoons with her mind! The film also raised the bar for action / sci-fi and special effects, and the wider cultural impact is enormous. Despite an unhealthy number of viewings over the years (guessing at least 40) this film never gets boring and never loses the awe-factor. I’m struggling to find a single fault in it!