Sunday, December 04, 2016

Movie review - "Bridge of Spies" (2015) **1/2

Steven Spielberg became a legend in part by making movies that perfectly targeted in the inner child in all of us - this one targets the inner forgotten middle aged man. Tom Hanks works hard at his boring job (insurance lawyer), isn't particularly respected by his nagging wife or ungrateful kids. He gets a call to defend a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) which he does with such passion that he saves the spy from execution and people on the train start scowling at him. But he proves Everyone Wrong when the spy is used to swap for Francis Gary Powers. Then everyone hears about what he does and people are nice to him on the train again.

It's an odd sort of movie. There's a very sympathetic description of a Soviet spy, who is calm, and brave and a bit doddery in a loveable English eccentric sort of way - Hanks keeps going on about how hes better than say the Rosenbergs because he was born Russian. But he is in the country spying isn't he? And is it so great we got back Francis Gary Powers? I mean, yeah, he was brave and that crap but it was hardly a massive victory for freedom.

I feel in my guts there wasn't enough story here for a feature film. It was a hit, but I'm inclined to put that down to the fact it's a big budget film for adults with a star in it, that tries to tell a story... Hollywood makes hardly any movies like that these days. And it does a nice line in middle aged man wish fulfillment.

I'm not sure why Spielberg wanted to make this. I get the impression he may have been excited about the possibilities involved in recreating the era. It's slow paced and not that gripping and at 140 minutes way too long. The stakes feel low. Who cares about spies who've been caught? Or a lawyer whose wife nags him? Tom Hanks isn't Jimmy Stewart - I miss the days when Tom Hanks played Tom Hanks. But it does have novelty and the production design is impressive.

Movie review - "Deadpool" (2016) ***1/2

They're a very smart bunch at Marvel, getting more life out of their old formula by coming up with a fresh twist - an extremely meta, self referential R rated version. Ryan Reynolds is perfectly cast in the lead - ditto TJ Miller as his best friend.

They comment on the tropes while still delivering them  - hooker with a heart of gold, "bad guy" with a heart of gold, getting revenge, a superhero so talented there's no real threat to him, a damsel in distress who pretends to not be a damsel in distress. It's smart arseness and cleverness does get annoying at times but other times it is genuinely funny with some brilliantly smart bits. It does have integrity which is why I think people responded to it so much.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Script review - "Mad Max Two" (13 April, 1981)

Not sure of the exact draft of this screenplay - it seems reasonably close to the final product. The same set up is there, as is the structure - Max finds a tanker, meets the Gyro captain, arrives at the camp, goes and gets the tanker and brings it back, tries to escape but is injured, drives the tanker at the end. Pappagalo lives at the end of this one and is a lot more ruthless.

Some of the character names aren't very politically correct: "gay boy berserkers", "The Lusty Girl" (the Arky Whitley part). I feel a lot of this may have been changed during shooting. But even at script stage this has tremendous mythical power and is a gripping read. The characters are simple but clearly defined via action. You could film it tomorrow.

Movie review - "Trespass" (1993) ***

You don't associate the team of Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis with gritty thrillers - well structured comedies are more their line (Back to the Future, Used Cars, I Wanna Hold Your Hand). This too is well structured and it could have really done with more comedy.

It's a modern day take on The Treasure of the Sierre Madre with Bill Paxton and William Sandler going looking for buried treasure in an abandoned building... only to pick a day where two drug lords (Ice T and Ice Cube) have decided to use the same building to take out a rival.

This starts with a bang - a great Ry Cooder score, rapid intro into the story... a scene of a drug dealer killing a rival, a fire sequence, firemen discover the map and decide to go looking for it, stumble upon an old derelict, the drug dealers turn up, guns get drawn...

The second half of the movie was less sure. There were fewer complications, some repetitive scenes that could've actually been cut from the film (eg Paxton and Sandler building a bridge to try and get across to the next building, which was shot down). The divisions among the gangsters were interesting - I wish there had been more.

I kept thinking the film needed extra twists to push it home - like say someone else turns up: someone Paxton/Sandler know from their civilian life, such as a girlfriend... or an associate of the drug dealer that Ice T and Ice Cube kill... or more police... or the reveal one of the gang was a traitor, or two of them were going out... or something...

Sandler started pretty greedy and crazed (he brings a gun to the expedition) and just gets more greedy and crazed. Paxton starts a little greedy and wary but basically decent and ends the same way. I do wish these roles had been played by better actors from the Walter Hill stock company, like Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, etc. Ice T and Ice Cube wipe the floor with them - actually all the black actors are pretty good.

All the "motherfucker"s in the dialogue gets boring after a while. The photography is beautiful. The concept of drug dealing gangsters referring to themselves as businessmen, using mobile phones and filming themselves on the video was fresher then... and the technology has dated. Unfortunately the social conditions which inspired the story haven't.

Movie review - "Undisputed" (2002) *** (re-viewing)

Unpretentious Walter Hill-David Giler film which doesn't have the tightness of Hill's works during his golden period (late 70s early 80s) but is enjoyable. It has the benefit of a strong "what if" idea - what if the heavyweight champion of the world was sent to prison for rape and had a fight with the local champion?

It helps that the stars look as though they can box - Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes. There must have been a lot of pressure to cast white leads - as was the case in the direct to video sequels - but it was worth the effort: it helps sell the reality of the film. Excellent support cast: Peter Falk, Fisher Stevens, Wes Studi, Michael Rooker.

Aspects are flabby - I can't think of a more appropriate word. The script feels as though it could have done with another complication - I had the same feeling about an earlier Hill boxing movie, Hard Times, which this resembles every now and then (e.g. the boxer being honourable and refusing to cheat).

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Movie review - "Anaconda" (1997) **

Schlocky fun which benefits of having a "before they were famous" cast including Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Owen Wilson. There's also some people whose best days were behind them including Jon Voight and Eric Stotlz.

The story revolves around that old 1990s standby, a documentary film crew, trying to track down a lost tribe. Instead they stumble upon a killer anaconda. More time is spent dealing with crazed anaconda catcher Jon Voight (sporting an outrageous accent).

The highlight of the film is Voight who hams it up but is entertaining. The special effects of the anaconda are poor and there are surprisingly few suspenseful sequences involving the reptile. There are some enjoyably over the top attacks. I thought the script would use the lost tribe as a third act complication but no.

Stoltz's role is emasculating - he's knocked out for most of the film. Ice Cube gives a relaxed performance and Lopez is a likeable hero, even though at times you feel she's posing so the hair can go over her eye the right way. The scenery is pleasant. It's disappointingly mediocre - not bad enough to be a true masterpiece of crap but not a well made film at all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Script review - "The Getaway" by Walter Hill (1991)

I have seen the Alec Baldwin version of The Getaway but don't remember that much about it except to think that Baldwin really established himself as no Steve McQueen, and a sex scene between Baldwin and Kim Basinger which seemed very full on, but somehow not that hot because they were married - it just felt a bit show off-y.

The script in the film is credited to Walter Hill and Amy Holden Jones. The version I read was credited solely to Hill, and included some changes from the original - I'd gotten into my head that Hill's credit came due to his 1970s work but evidently not. It starts with Doc busting someone out of prison, then things going wrong, then him being arrested and going to gaol  - the 1972 film began with him getting out of gaol.

From memory the 1994 film shared the same ending as the 1972 one but this has Doc and his wife actually go to El Ray and find out that it's not that great. This is from the novel, although greatly truncated.

The rest of the script feels similar to the 1972 one. It's tight and solid and moves along fast. But really it needs the right stars.