Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ten Statements About....FAST AND FURIOUS 6 (2013)

There is nothing that says more about this film than this
picture of a man flying through the air from a tank to
a car....
“You know, when I was young, my brother always said, "Every man has to have a code." Mine: Precision. Use what you have, switch them out when you need to until you get the job done. It's efficient. But you? You're loyal to a fault. Your code is about family. It makes you predictable. And in our line of work, predictable means vulnerable. And that means I can reach out and break you whenever I want.
“At least when I go, I'll know what it's for.

1) I was surprised how much this film demaded an intimate knowledge of the entire Fast and Furious continuity; director Justin Lin does his best to tie in every. single. element from all the five previous films by calling back to all of them and trying to make it all work into a single storyline.  I don’t know if it works completely, but then I prefer the more integrated backstorying to the stop-and-star of Fast 5.

2) Especially given how the search for Lettie was the center of this film, did we really need Elisa Pataky, even for the brief scenes she has?  They don’t do anything for either her or Dom--actually, they end up creating this weird vibe at two points in the film--that couldn’t have been handled better by a couple of lines of dialogue.

3) It’s obvious to me that if Fast 5 was Lin’s take on Ocean’s Eleven, then this is Lin’s take on James Bond.  Hell, I was surprised at how much the plot and climax seems to take a lot of elements from Die Another Day...and actually improves on them!  And speaking of one of those elements...
Getting the band back together for the last time.

4) Gina Carrano is a real worthy addition to the cast.  She gives us two exceptional fights with Lettie, she has a good chemistry with Dwayne Johnson, and works well with the already extant cast.  I just wish she didn’t end up the way she ended up, even if Lin didn’t even bother to conceal where her plotline was going.

5) Lin really works to make sure we have a number of cool chase scenes that are different from each other and, more importantly, makes sure they are more or less clearly defined.  He adheres to many of the rules of storytelling in depicting these set pieces (like the way he used ‘the rule of three’ in the climatic cars v. plane thingie), and avoids for the most part the shakey cam that would have made all the running about incomprehensible.

6) I liked how Lin knew that the street racing aspect of the franchise simply wouldn’t work given the low-rent vibe of the film...so he ends up utilizing that aspect to, of all things, do a character moment between Dom and Lettie.  And it works.

Yep...two tough hot chicks having a catfight.  That is what
life is all about.
7) While I appreciate how leaner this film is, I wonder if we couldn’t benefit from a little more time with Luke Evans’ Shaw and his crew.  We learn almost nothing about the people surrounding Shaw (in many cases we never even learn the names of the characters; I kept referring to them as ‘squinty guy’ ‘blonde girl,’ etc.).  We do get them set up as ‘the anti-Torreto crew,’ but then never return to extrapolating them further.  I wonder if the film as a whole could have taken a break, especially given the crazy pace of the plot, for Lin to breathe and give us some more teeny-tiny character bits.

8) I do think that Christopher ‘Ludacris’ Bridges’ Tej works a whole lot better in the tech role than Jordana Brewster did in the previous film.  It does help that Lin puts Tej in the field, coordinating during the major action pieces and doesn’t keep him sitting in a warehouse clacking on computers.

9) God bless directors who know how to use a MacGuffin correctly.  Lin presents us with the Nightshade device, tells us why it is dangerous...and then gets back to the punchy punchy run run.  We don’t get paragraphs of dialogue trying to tell us every little thing we should know about it; Lin knows we just need a justification of a threat to make the plot move forward.

10) ...and God Bless a director who knows how to give us a post-credit stinger, because not only does this stinger finally resolves one of the biggest F&F continuity questions, it tells us something about what to expect in Fast 7 that makes you want to see it...NOW.

Overall...Yes, it’s still a big, dumb film, but it’s tighter and better paced than the previous entry with a lot of decent action.  A good time waster.

This time I took a trip to the AMC Loews Bay Terrace, a smaller mall theater that I will always appreciate for not giving us some variation of the accursed Firstlook televisual spam.  Among the trailers were ones for Riddick (which seems to have jettisoned the overcomplicated Furian stuff from The Chronicles of Riddick in favor of a semi-remake of Pitch Black), The World’s End (I have yet to see anything Edgar Wright has done I haven’t loved, so I’m down for this Alien-Invasion-Pub-Crawl thingie), and R.I.P.D. (because I always wanted to know what Men In Black would be like with Ryan Reynolds replacing Will Smith.  Wait a minute...no I didn’t!).  But by far the trailer that got me the most worked up was the one for Pacific Rim, where the editors make it clear that they know what we want--namely shots of giant robots hitting giants monsters in the head with oil tankers.  I’m there!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ten Statements About....AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)

You know, when we use the phrase 'a hole in the head'...we
don't mean it literally, Christian.
“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don't know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip."

1) This is a strange film for a number of reason, not the least of which is how this is a period piece that....well, doesn’t feel very period-y.  There’s a decided artificiality to the 80‘s details in the film, and I wonder if it would have worked better if the whole Reagan-era wankery was dropped.

2) This is the film where I first saw Christian Bale, and it’s a magnificent introduction.  Of course, the magnificence comes from how Bale is playing two different characters--the real life Patrick, and the dream life Patrick--and we don’t know which one is the one we’re following until the very end.  Bale is able to blend these two characters so well that we don’t realize there are two personas for a very long time.

Plus, he runs around naked with a running chainsaw, which is a braver act to me than any stunt he may have done during the Batman trilogy.

3) Boy, are the two women Patrick has a romantic relationship with--Reese Witherspoon’s Evelyn and Samantha Mathis’ Courtney--cardboard in the extreme.  Okay, we’re supposed to see Evelyn as empty and vapid, especially since director Mary Harron seems to rely on her for some of the more overt comic relief of the film (which is curious given this is supposed to be a satire)...but Mathis’ Courtney is equally without heft, which is odd; something terrible happens to her, and I get the impression we’re supposed to feel something for her, but there’s nothing in her time on screen that gives the necessary emotional heft for that to happen.  To be fair, I can’t tell if that’s Mathis’ choices as an actress, or the script by Harron and Guinevere Turner underwrites her character so much there’s nothing for her to bring to life.

4) On the other hand, Chloe Sevigny’s Jean is the one female character who fully comes to life...which makes sense, as she is the one who uncovers the dual nature of Bateman.  Jean is a bit underwritten--a lot of what Easton Ellis did to flesh her out in the novel in the third act of the book has been excised--but Sevigny is able to make Jean live, which makes it logical that she’s the only potential victim in Bateman’s world that he restrains himself from killing.  And it’s Sevigny who gives her final scene, where she discovers what Bateman is really about, a real weight without saying a word.

5) I’m not quite sure how I feel about the way Harron treats the frequent discourses on popular music from Bateman in the film.  Unlike with High Fidelity, which made the pop culture stuffage asides to the audience, this film has Bateman go into these discourses with friends, and they come off as odd and pretentious.  It’s made even more ridiculous by the way Harron uses one of Bateman’s monologues as a signifier that he’s switching into murderous mode.  Even taking into account that this film is supposed to be satire, it comes off as clunky and weird.  And speaking of satire...

6) The problem with this film being satire is that’s a satire of something that, by 2000, had become passe’.  There’s a weird feeling of ‘and...so?’ to all the japes about hollow consumerism and yuppie culture and how hollow the lives of Bateman and his friends are.  Of course, I do wonder how much of my ennui with the satire angle comes from the patomine-y approach Harron takes to the 80‘s setting as a whole.
Yep...this threesome is not gonna end well...

7) Considering how grotesquely gory the book was (and yes, I read it when it was first published), I’m surprised how restrained Harron is in depicting the violence.  Not that I wanted to see Christian Bale torturing a woman’s asshole with a habitrail and a rat, mind you, but most of the bloody stuff happens off screen, with only aftermath seen in really brief shots.  There’s so little actual murderousness that it made me wonder if the only murder we see in most of its glory is one that is separate from the other killings in the film.

8) One of the reasons why Bale--and by extension Harron--is allowed to play the ‘who’s the Real Patrick’ game for as long as they do is because of Willem DaFoe’s Detective Kimball.  DaFoe easily slides into the world of Bateman’s delusion, and brings a certain gravitas to his brief scenes that it reinforces one interpretation of the events depicted within the film.

9) I appreciate the fact that Harron interprets the book the same way I did, but chooses to make this interpretation obverse at the very end.  Oddly enough, this move serves to confirm something Bateman says in one of the monologues he has at the very beginning of the film--he has become invisible to the world around him.

10) I’ll admit it--I had a hard time telling Bateman’s investment banker friends apart...but I think that’s part of the point Harron is trying to make, and one of the reasons that final denouement works.

Overall...yeah, it hasn’t aged well and it’s deeply flawed--but it’s still one hundred percent a worthwhile film due to Christian Bale’s magnificent performance.

(Of course, the weird thing is that I’m now deeply curious about the ill-advised DTV sequel American Psycho II: All-American Girl, which features Mila Kunis and totally invalidates everything Harron carefully built up to....)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ten Statements About....SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD (2010)

Beware Michael Sera's video-game-inspired power!
“Next time, we don't date the girl with eleven evil ex-boyfriends."
“It's seven."
“Oh, well, that's not that bad.”

1) This film has a great, well, texture.  The way director Edgar Wright’s storytelling approximates a video game creates something unique even among comic book movies--namely a movie that looks like a comic book contemporary to the making of this film.  The introductory panels for each character, the way papery graphic sound effects rise from actual sounds, the combat titles, the transitions all help to build the world Wright wants us to dwell in.

2) I know some people didn’t care for Michael Cera, but I think the film needed him as Pilgrim.  Sera has just the right level of insincerity in his performance that it works.  Through his eyes, we understand that Scott is a big dick, which is essential for us to buy into the journey he goes through.

3) You know, I think Elizabeth Winstead is stunning, but her Ramona is, well, a bit of a dick as well, and has less screentime to show any change she may have gone through.  I think that the film needed to give her that to justify the ending it came up with (an ending that was made up before the last issue of the comic came out).

There are so many jokes I could make, but none of them would
paint me in a good light...
4) But what the film really needs to do is more clearly justify and define the story arc for Ellen Wong’s Knives Cho.  Given how she’s treated by Scott in the first act and gets all stalker-y in the second, the argument the film seems to make for her in the third seems so disjointed and strange--and it leads to a denoument at (literally) the film’s end that seems to dispute that third act entirely.  That Wong almost makes it work is a credit to her as an actress.

5) Can I admit to having a slight crush on Allison Pill’s Kim Pine?  Maybe it’s the way she delivers each line with a sort of controlled fury, but she seems to draw the eye with each scene she’s in.

6) One of the things that makes this film work besides its unique look is how much fun so many of these actors, especially those that play Ramona’s seven evil ex’s.  I’m a big believer in the principle that if the people involved are having fun (without breaking the third wall), then that fun will rub off on the viewer, and it works here.
Yeah, it's a Michael Sera film...but don't fight this film's
unique, sugar-coated charms.

7) I really respect the fact that Wright establishes the video game motif of his world extremely quickly, and then sticks to the the rules inherent in such a background.  Hell, the resolution of the third act works only if we buy into his world-as-video-game conceit...and it’s to his credit that the big twist is set up very clearly, yet we might not figure out what went down right away.

8) Every time I see Brandon Routh, I am convinced he needs a bigger career.  His telekinetic (apparently in the world of Scott Pilgrim, veganism gives you super powers) Todd Ingram is one of the highlights of the film, and he makes the most of his screentime.  And apparently Thomas Jane gets to drag him off for violation of the Vegan Code.  And speaking of the Vegan Police....

9)  I do appreciate how, after Wright gives us the prerequisite hyper-kinetic fight scene (because, you know, video game and all), Scott ends up using his head and, in one memorable moment, his musical skills to triumph over each of the exes.  It shows that there are qualities that could raise Scott above his dickishness, and it makes that ultimate rise above his flaws work in that third act.

10) Bless this movie for being shot in Toronto and...being set in Toronto.  Hell, one of the major reasons Ramona becomes an object of desire for desire for Scott is because she’s from the States and, as such, is ‘exotic.’

Overall...this is one of those films, like Speed Racer and Josie And The Pussycats, that will get the following it deserves with distance.  Wright creates a world, sticks to it, and is unafraid to give us an unsympathetic lead (who becomes sympathetic through what he learns from the events of the film), and presents a unique moviegoing experience.  While the ending is a little sour, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a very good film.