Sunday, January 24, 2010

Every once in a while, a quickie is just what you need

I could have titled this, "Movie Review Quickies #1," and will from now on. These movies don't really need the longer reviews I've done before. Also, this is a good way to give more bang for the buck... Hopefully, quality will win out over quantity with no sacrifice of depth. I hope you will be drawn to or away from the eight movies here: "The Nest, "Hopscotch," "The Seven-Ups," "Runaway," "Dreamscape," "Shiver," and "Body Snatchers." I saved Michael Caine's "Get Carter" for last. Some of these are new for me, while some I've seen once or more.

I can only bear to see Mickey Rourke this way
The NestWell-made French action film with the low-key feel of an independent picture. It engaged me immediately and held me for a spell. Ultimately, I didn't like it, though I admit it's well-made. Many will love this, because it executes a lot of violent action nicely and is fairly unique. The dialogue is mediocre, but the characters are carried well by most of the cast. Especially impressive is the horrible crime kingpin who's being transported by the cops - there's a cool and strong undercurrent throughout that suggests that he may be the devil himself. The carnage he incites is certainly one clue, but there's more... It's worth noting that the film takes a creatively-healthy approach to action, even as Hollywood cranks out half-hearted, half-done projects that bring no joy. It also (a) tries to confuse/surprise the audience and (b) expresses many things (character & plot points, etc.) indirectly. I can't really say why it didn't quite work for me.
No trailer, so...
Hopscotch Fairly good 1980 spy comedy, starring Walter Matthau. A newly-retired CIA employee decides to humiliate the world's intelligence agencies - especially his superior, Ned Beatty - with his tell-all memoir. The humor is mostly dry, and works well - they were smart to pair Matthau with Britain's Glenda Jackson. It's weird to see a caper movie where the stakes are so low - like "Ocean's Eleven," the hero is seldom in real peril. There's a weird political sensibility to the film, one that's largely shared by many 70s action pictures. I suppose it's influenced by the Nixon era, which explains why it reminded me of "Three Days of the Condor" and "All the President's Men," but without the tension.
Help me, it sounds like a BDSM ad!
The Seven-Ups I was looking up info on James Caan's "Thief" and found a reference to "The Seven-Ups." It didn't sound like a waste of time. "Underrated," "70s," and "crime film" were used to describe this pic; "of" and "the" were also spotted. I also liked the synopsis... In brief: Thugs pose as cops and ransom crooks back to their mob families, while a new police unit unknowingly circles around both groups. The plot is definitely different - in a good way - but it didn't do much for me. Scheider's special police unit should've been used much more. They're the title of the film and I think they had one big scene. Also, focusing on crimes punishable by 7 years in jail isn't actually impressive. Maybe sentencing was very different at the time, because it sounds "pretty dangerous," but not "top priority." It is impressive to see a US cop film that spends so much time with the crooks - and different characters. "The Seven-Ups" really takes its time with two plots that eventually collide. Roy Scheider, the lead on the posters, is off the screen for long stretches. Maybe the lack of personal focus killed it for me: I didn't love or hate anyone's performance. Still, the picture wasn't badly made, and the director effectively established an atmosphere. I liked the repeated use of a certain low-end business that everybody likes (you'll know what I mean). The action was handled well, though there's far too much talking to recommend it for that alone. I'll go to my grave saying that real stunts are way better than ones done by CGI. If you see this movie, you'll see similarities to many 70s action flix, particularly "The French Connection."
Will that mustache ever age?
Runaway 80's nostalgia made me rewatch this 1984 sci-fi piece, written and directed by Michael Crichton. This is one of Tom Selleck's many attempts to be a real film star, and it doesn't fly. He's certainly competent in the role, but this movie was only half-decent at the time; it's almost laughable nowadays. I can respect the effort to establish a detailed and credible "slightly-future America," but the dialogue is very dull. The most fun to be found here is in Gene Simmon's (yes, the KISS frontman) leering and sneering evildoer. One nice note - this movie shares a lot with "Robocop." "Runaway" also envisions some interesting and cynical things for the future press. For one thing, they're so aggressive that they'll endanger a police operation just for some footage. For another, they're so relentless and omnipresent that they record busts and bomb deactivation. When would they ever be allowed to interfere with law enforcement like that, or air police highlights as if it were a football play? Other efforts to comment on the future - robots are everywhere and doing everything, while people accept fake personal relationships with machines that act as foster wives and mothers - are dry or easy to ignore.
What is "it?"
Dreamscape Ah, the 80's! A magical time when today's older stars were much thinner, hair styles were taller, and clothes looked funny. This is the 2nd PG-13 movie ever. The nifty premise - that people with some psychic ability can enter and control dreams - works well, both in 1984 and now. What doesn't hold up is the turgid synthesized music (they didn't use Tangerine Dream!). Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer are great in any role, and career villain David Patrick Kelly is excellent (Eddie Murphy hit him with a car door in "48 Hours"). Dennis Quaid is solid as the cocky and suave rogue, but the film's mixed pace brings down the whole thing. This movie goes very slowly and that's alright, but the occasional push into action makes the whole thing a bit shaky. It's not amazing, but worth a spin. Great homage to "Enter the Dragon." Keep an eye out for George Wendt ("Norm!")...
Frodoooooooooo! Oh wait...
Shiver This Spanish horror piece is part of a wave of child-horror films. This places it in the same category as "Them," "The Orphanage," and a slew of Japanese films. The cinematography is fine, and the actors do a nice job. The opening scene is good, as are several individual moments. But the whole piece doesn't make a big impression, and the ambiguous ending is very problematic. Without spoilers, let me just say that it reminded me of a British review of Richard Gere's part in the "Day of the Jackal." You need to work really hard to make some characters sympathetic (in Gere's case, he played a totally cuddly IRA bomber). You gotta earn those moments. If you can...
This narration is so delicious I want it on my Ipod
Body Snatchers Forest Whittaker, Meg Tilly, and a 23 year-old Gabriele Anwar star in Abel Ferrara's 1993 remake. Unfortunately, the quiet mood is a little too quiet, the roles and dialogue are unimpressive, and the special effects are not special. Ferrara has many strengths, and character pieces are one. But the slow pace and dialogue have no impact here. There's nothing that pulls the viewer into the film, as with his amazing "King of New York." The scares won't scare you, and nothing can make you interested in the parts. In short: This is your film. This is your film on sedatives...
I told you I wanted broader lapels! Broader, dammit!
Get Carter This 1971 Michael Caine flick is very well-regarded. It's considered a seminal piece of British 70's film, and a classic in the annals of anti-hero pieces. For my money, it's an incredibly mixed bag. I've never seen a movie that was clearly directed both well and poorly. I was blown away when the beautiful Scottish girl drives her sportscar - the music and camerawork is exceptional in every way. Yet the scene with the kneeling man in the back yard is quite poor, visually. Like that classic revenge tale, The Count of Monte Cristo, "GC" takes its time before our protagonist gets to his ugly business. This slowness isn't actually a problem. What is problematic is the sheer excess of the hero's nastiness. It feels like "nasty for nasty's sake." By and large, the film plays just fine - until Caine confronts someone in a coffee shop. The content and length of the scene are comical, but not on purpose. Honestly, when I saw it, it looked to me like a skit from "Chapelle's Show." And if you watch it, I think the blocking and dialogue might have the same effect on you. Michael Caine acts perfectly in "GC," but he can't save that particular moment. The violence is very impressively done - sometimes humorous, sometimes realistic. Black humor quietly fills this piece. The reveal near the end is great - there's nothing like watching someone's amusement turn into horror, then quiet rage... What I like best about this picture is the muted mood, the harsh world that the characters inhabit, and the fact that it's a British film set outside of London. Even though this movie isn't amazing, it deserves respect. This makes 2000's torpid remake (with Stallone) nothing less than an abomination.

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