Sunday, September 06, 2015

What I Watched in August

Ahh, the films of Summer! I do enjoy getting in out of the heat to munch popcorn and bask in the glow of a big action film and therefore MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION got my money. I was not a fan of the first two installments of this film series but the last three have been pretty clever spy thrillers with this one keeping the batting average moving in the right direction. I was a little disappointed that there were a couple of flatly unbelievable moments - Cruise being flung into the plane when the door finally opens - but the tone and pace were spot on with nice turns from all involved. It's nice to have Alec Baldwin aboard as the government's jerk in residence with his future in the next film being a fun reversal. As usual with these kinds of movies I enjoy the less explosive action sequences the most and the motorcycle/car chase present here is fantastic. I think that Cruise and the director's previous film JACK REACHER was much better but I'm glad to see the pair working together well in a film of larger budget. Sharp, fast and clever are the kinds of words that should be used when describing this kind of movie and this team has a handle on those things.

I have come to terms with the fact that there may never be a good film made from the Fantastic Four comic book characters. There have been three separate attempts spread over four films trying to bring this team to the big screen and by pure crappy luck they have gotten the worst of it each time. This time should have been the one that finally got things right but whether because of studio micromanaging or creative incompetence (reports vary) we now have another massive failure. It's a crying shame. There are flashes of a damned good idea here and there throughout this film that gave me the occasional hope that the movie would straighten out and begin to pull itself together but it never happens. The best example for me is when the team plus Victor Von Doom finally succeed in travelling to the Negative Zone - uh, I mean Planet Zero (?). This is a well done sequence and the visualization of the alien world is remarkable. But then the film stops dead so that the group can climb down a cliff to look at cracks in the ground and boredom strikes. In fact, boredom is this film's default setting! The pacing is awful throughout the running time with the story seeming to just get moving before hitting a wall repeatedly. I don't mind reimaging the classic characters but don't bore me! How in the Hell do you make this film and manage to BORE me? Damn!

To be honest, there are some good scenes that work to keep the film from being a complete flush and the actors do a very good job of selling what they are given but it ends up not mattering. This is a total mess. The only hope is that 20th Century Fox lets Marvel have these characters back and in a few years- after the stink has dissipated - yet another attempt can be made. This just shouldn't be that hard.

I'd love to get into a deeper discussion about writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton's well made thriller THE GIFT but I don't want to take any of the surprises away from potential viewers. This a film that could have easily been just another of the 'yuppies in peril' stories that Hollywood pumped out in 1990's like the whole town was working under a court order but Edgerton has constructed a clever twist or two. Indeed, he might even have pulled off the near impossible quadruple twist ending if my count is accurate. Just settle in and let Edgerton and his fine cast of talented actors spin this yarn and suck you in. Good stuff!

And now for the best surprise of the month. I'm a fan of the 1960's TV series The Man From UNCLE but I came to the show only in recent years. I never caught it in reruns as a kid so I have little familiarity with it as a nostalgic touchstone and only see it as a pretty damned good spy adventure. I had moderate expectations of this new film adaptation of the series because I have enjoyed the director's previous films and liked what I saw of the casting. When I learned that they were making it a 1960's period piece I became more interested and then the first trailer sealed the deal. Wow!

Let me say that I'm aware that the film hasn't done very well financially and I think that is a damned shame as THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is one of my favorite movies of the year so far! This is a well written, well paced Cold War thriller that feels like a movie made in 1963 without drawing ostentatious attention to the ways that it does so. The sets, costumes, cars, locations and even the hairstyles are period appropriate in ways that make it seem as if the filmmakers studied the first three Bond film and refused to use anything that couldn't be spotted in them. To make things even more impressive the film also gets the characters and their attitudes accurate to the period. This is something that is often glossed over in the rare instances when a modern movie is set in the past as, more often than not, the characters are more modern in their mindsets and mores than they should be. Not here. These are Cold War warriors and their conflicts are real as are their personality quirks which also ring true to the time period. I know this attention to detail must have been a driving concern for the creators and I applaud them for it but it is this firm refusal to break period that probably made it fall flat for younger audiences. As I said to a friend who also admires the movie, "It might not please the under thirty crowd. It only has one explosion! What would Michael Bay think?" And did I forget to mention the excellent score? Wow! This is a great spy thriller and I hope they somehow find a way to keep this creative team together an make a sequel. This is the kind of Summer movie I love! 

The List

THE THREAT (1949)- 7 (solid little crime thriller)
THE ATTICUS INSTITUTE (2015)- 7 (supernatural thriller)
COPPER CANYON (1950)- 7 (Technicolor western with Ray Milland and Hedy Lamarr)
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958)- 8 (French crime thriller)
STEEL DAWN (1987)- 6 (not bad little post-apocalypse film)
THE GUEST (2014) - 8 (very well done action/suspense film)
CROSS COUNTRY CRUISE (1934)- 6 (fun Pre-Code road trip/romance/drama)
BIRDMAN (2014)- 9 (amazing piece of magical realism)
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956)- 7 (Lang's twisty murder tale)
FANTASTIC FOUR (2015) - 3 (missed again)
BARQUERO (1970)- 7 (western with Lee Van Cleef, Warren Oates, Forrest Tucker and Mariette Hartley!)
ROTTWEILER (2004)- 4
PLANETA BUR (1962)- 8 (fascinating Russian SF)
YOU'RE NEXT (2011)- 8 (rewatch)
THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM (1966)- 9 (excellent realistic spy adventure)
CREEP (2014)- 6 (interesting two character horror film)
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996)- 7 (rewatch)
THE DROP (2014)- 9 (excellent crime tale/character study)
LOCKE (2013)- 8 (brilliant single character play with Tom Hardy)
THE GIFT (2015)- 8 (yuppies in peril thriller but with a twist or two)
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) - 9
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)- 7 (sad character study)
TAKE A HARD RIDE (1975)- 8 (rewatch)
PREDESTINATION (2014)- 9 (rewatch) (even better the second time)
THE WITCH (1954) - 6 (pretty good Mexican horror/revenge tale) 


Nick Rentz said...

How many people under 30 do you know that don't have a problem watching a movie with story and character development instead of "plosions" every 30 seconds? I've been surprised at work because there were a couple of older guys ( about late 40's) who I stopped talking to about movies because Peckinpah's The Getaway is boring from one and I think both said Once Upon a Time in the West is boring for example. However, they think Adam Sandler and Transformers movies are good. On the other hand, there are two guys my age that have problem watching an older movie.

Rod Barnett said...

I guess it depends on whether the person actually likes movies or just wants something to distract them. Age isn't really the best way to break these kinds of attitudes down but it does give a good shorthand for short attention span and/or lack of desire to stretch expectations.