2015 Summer Movies #6
Posted by Gerald on August 1, 2015
Summer Movie #51 – The General (John Boorman, 1998): No, not that one – this is a biographical film about Martin Cahill, an Irish crime boss who was assassinated by the IRA in 1994. Brendan Gleeson is great as Cahill and Jon Voight turns in a good performance as a police officer trying to bring him to justice. This film is not one of the stylistic masterpieces that Boorman is best known for – it is generally pretty spare and straightforward. The film can’t seem to decide if it wants to depict Cahill as a Robin Hood-like example of the Irish independent spirit, or a ruthless thug – and to my mind doesn’t do a good job of navigating between those extremes. Perhaps the ambivalence is a reflection of Boorman’s attitude (he also wrote and produced the movie). Boorman was a victim of one of Cahill’s burglaries – and this burglary is dramatized in the film. We see Cahill break into a house and steal various items, including a child’s toy train (which he later gives to his daughter) and a gold record – Boorman’s copy of the gold record for the soundtrack from “Deliverance”. I was left equally ambivalent about this movie. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I can’t really recommend it either, unless you just love Brendan Gleeson.
Summer Movie #52 – Diplomacy (Volker Schlöndorff, 2014): This adaptation of a play dramatizes the efforts of a Swedish diplomat, Raoul Nordling, to convince the commander of German forces in Paris at the end of the occupation, General Dietrich von Choltitz, not to destroy the city before it could be taken by the allies as he had been ordered by Hitler. The movie plays out almost entirely as one conversation between the two over the course of one night. The performances are great and it manages that trick of building real tension even though we know the ending. Well worth checking out – just be ready to read a lot of subtitles.
Summer Movie #53 – Carve Her Name with Pride (Lewis Gilbert, 1958): This is a British dramatization of the wartime service and execution of SOE agent Violette Szabo, played by Virginia McKenna. This is a decent war adventure film of the classic style done by a skilled director (Gilbert had a successful career that included “Alfie” and three Bond films). It is certainly a genre exercise and both romanticizes and whitewashes the real story. If you are a fan of this sort of film, it is certainly worth the watching.
Summer Movie #54 – Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2014): This is an excellent musical biopic about Brian Wilson that doesn’t follow the general pattern of musical biopics. Rather than a single narrative the movie switches back and forth between two key periods in Wilson’s life and uses two actors (Paul Dano and John Cusack) to play him at these stages. Paul Giamatti is wonderfully creepy as Dr. Eugene Landy, who basically held Wilson as a prisoner for many years. The film does a wonderful job of depicting genius and insanity. You owe it to yourself to see this movie.
Summer Movie #55 – X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014): I almost felt a sense of responsibility to watch this one, as opposed to any real desire – but I’m glad I did. This might be the strongest entry in the X-Men franchise so far. It had a lot for the Marvel fans, a good story, and decent pacing. The performances were good overall and I found myself able to see past the action set-pieces (which were well-done) and actually care about what was happening to these people. Maybe the reason is that this story centered on the idea that these are damaged people in many ways and explored how their damage could lead to heroism or treachery alike. If I have a criticism it is the one common to most summer tent-pole action films – there is precious little time to really develop the character and sub-plots. Still, Singer made good use of what time he had. This was quite well done.
Summer Movie #56 – A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbjin, 2014): This was the last of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s film to be released during his lifetime – dammit. It is an excellent spy thriller based on a John Le Carre novel of the same name. I love these sorts of films – subtle intricate plots about deception and betrayal. This is completely lacking in “Bourne” style action sequences – it is about mood, character, and tension. The performances were great, especially Hoffman who plays one of those Le Carre characters with a lot going on underneath, but very little of it reaching the surface. An excellent movie.
Summer Movie #57 – The Expendables 3 (Patrick Hughes, 2014): It is the third Expendables movie. One-liners were delivered, things were blown up, hordes of faceless enemies were dispatched, more things were blown up, martial arts sequences were sequenced, more things were blown up… This franchise has always been about the stars. This time the cast included Mel Gibson channeling the crazy for artistic purpose, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, and Antonio Banderas who was quite entertaining as he chewed scenery with delight. If you can appreciate these for what they are, this is worth the seeing. If you can’t it is worth avoiding. Personally, I loved it.
Summer Movie #58 – PTU (Johnnie To, 2000): This is a well-known Hong Kong action film from one of the best directors of the genre. It basically follows a “Police Tactical Unit” through an evening of patrol that gets wound up with the loss of a detective’s gun (I can’t help but think there is some homage to Kurosawa’s “Stray Dog” there) and interwoven with a Triad murder and other elements. The film is filled with noir style and delves into themes like corruption and police brutality before ending in a climatic shootout that seemed steeped in Peckinpah and Woo. The only down side is that the narrative itself is so murky as to be impenetrable in places. I’m not sure if that is deliberate or just a failure of translation or cultural transmission.
Summer Movie #59 – Rough Riders (John Milius, 1997): Ah, John Milius… has any other director ever made imperialism seem like so much fun? Which is why Theodore Roosevelt – a man who gloried in American expansionism and who saw war as a crucible from which true manhood emerged – has been such a perfect subject for him, both here and in 1975’s “The Wind and the Lion”. Having just finished a biography of TR, I was prompted to dig out the DVD of this, which I got some years ago but hadn’t watched (I did see this back when it aired on TNT, though). This “miniseries” (it really is just a long movie in structure) is clearly the work of the same man who gave us the (much superior) “The Wind and the Lion”. It simultaneously presents American imperialism as an outgrowth of greed and as a wonderful adventure. Tom Berenger did a much better job of capturing the real TR in this film than Brian Keith (who appeared in this as William McKinley) did in that older one. He got TR’s earnestness, his energetic and overwhelming charm, and things like his speech patterns – but Keith’s version was more fun. Fun, that is the problem for me. I love that older movie and can like this one, until I start thinking. Brian Keith as TR in “The Wind and the Lion” delivers a line that expresses an idea one can also see behind this film’s depiction of the Spanish American War. He says the the world will never love America “because it has too much audacity… and can be a bit blind and reckless at times…”. Here we have the comforting lie we Americans can tell ourselves about our brand of imperialism – that it is just us overreaching a bit. This makes the thousands of dead and the concentration camps in the Philippines after 1898 into the equivalent of a teenager going for a joy ride. We meant well when we went into Cuba, so subjecting the island to decades of oppressive dictatorships that we supported in the name of maintaining American business interests (not to mention fifty years of undeclared war when they had the “audacity” to throw out our chosen guy) was just a youthful indiscretion. Boys will be boys after all. Milius has done exciting and interesting action films, but they support a philosophy which makes us feel good about American dominance, and whose toxic remnants are “extraordinary rendition” and Abu Ghraib. I wish I hadn’t realized this. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch his work again without this being all I see.
Summer Movie #60 – Sharknado 3: Oh Hell, No! (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2015): As anyone who reads these would know, I loved the first two movies in this franchise. They managed to walk a fine line between schlock and self-parody with real aplomb. This one didn’t work as well. It is obvious now that SyFy sees a cash cow so they are trying too hard to manufacture a cultural moment, and not doing well. There was too much product placement, too much barely concealed corporate synergy. Also, if you are going to put Ann Fucking Coulter in front of me as the Vice-President of this country in a movie about tornadoes filled with sharks, I want to see her gruesome death, and I didn’t.