Talking Movies

May 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part IV

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:27 pm
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As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.
 
Active Valour
I was quite taken aback after giving a qualified thumbs-up to Act of Valour a while ago to see the critical pasting it took elsewhere, accompanied by some veritable frothing at the mouth about American foreign policy and how this movie, as propaganda, was complicit in propagating the ethics of Al-Qaeda. Firstly, regarding the ethics of terrorism, equating a man jumping on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades with a terrorist setting off an explosive vest to kill civilians isn’t a valid comparison. To say that the American soldier being praised for giving his life for his country, his comrades and his cause is ethically the same as an Al-Qaeda terrorist who gives his life for his religion, his comrades and his cause is not just invalid, it’s insane; it requires ignoring the fact that one man is killing himself to save other people, while the other is killing himself to kill other people – and if you’re willing to ignore that crucial difference in your own case-study comparison then there’s almost nothing you wouldn’t ignore to make your case. Secondly, Chill everyone, it’s just a movie. I’m not as exercised as other people by the propaganda element because I just don’t think it’s that important. I’ve written before about how the rise of China is being accompanied by a decline in the ability of America to project its power, or even to agree on what to project courtesy of deadlock in D.C. Other people look at Act of Valour and see American soldiers rampaging around the world breaking international law and fume at being expected to endorse this as heroic. I look at all the hardware; the submarines, aircraft carriers and jets stationed all around the world to enable this rampaging; and just see endless dollar signs. It’s awfully expensive to maintain that sort of military infrastructure, and it’s inevitably not going to be maintained at that level in the near future because America simply won’t have the money to spare. So this is effectively the last cinematic hurrah of how that sort of world used to operate, and endorsing it or abjuring it is, really, irrelevant. Stand-up comedian Christian Finnegan did a very droll routine on Conan about just relaxing and enjoying America becoming just another regular country. Perhaps rabid haters of Act of Valour need to do likewise.
 
Avengers ‘Assemble’
And yes, it’s time for another bit of Avengers bashing hereabouts. It’s occurred to me that not only is the British and Irish title remarkably clunky, but that assembling, as a concept, isn’t very exciting. It’s certainly nowhere near as exciting as the marketers appear to think. The TV spots proclaim “Get ready to….” and you’re waiting for “ROCK!” or something of that order to appear next on the screen only to get the word “Assemble” thrown at you. Thing is assembling isn’t exciting, it’s like queuing; it’s a preparatory stage, unlikely to excite anyone except Arthur Dent.

Better Safe than Statham

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:22 pm
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Does Safe represent the start of a push by Jason Statham to broaden his acting range by appearing in a film that’s decidedly more thriller than it is an action?
 
Writer and director Boaz Yakin, who also scripted and lensed Remember the Titans, certainly seems to have ambitions that don’t fit with the State’s usual mindless fun. The opening of Safe deploys a structure I can’t recall encountering anywhere else other than Tom Stoppard’s radio-play Artist Descending a Staircase – a boomeranging back in time and then returning to the present, albeit done with a good deal less intelligence and rigour than Stoppard displayed. If Statham is quite deliberately playing a character who is more emotional and vulnerable than his usual persona, then these opening flashbacks are a good deal more complicated than the usual ‘2 days previously’ that might be used as a noirish hook to an overly dramatic high-stakes start. Yakin though ends up with less of a noir feel than sheer confusion as he tries to blast through two backstories in flashback before linking them up ‘where we came in’.
 
Statham plays Luke Wright, a cage fighter in Jersey who accidentally pulverises an opponent in a fight he was supposed to throw, and is punished by the Russian mob; who execute his pregnant wife and hope to drive him to suicide by promising to kill anyone he establishes any sort of friendship with in the future. A year later Luke is about to jump in front of a subway train after the Russians have ruthlessly made good on their word when he spots Mei (Catherine Chan) being chased by the same gangsters. Mei who we have met first being terrorised by the Russians, was originally abducted by the Triads in Nanjing, and sent to America by Han Jiao (James Hong) to do the book-keeping for him mentally using her prodigious math abilities. In the present she has been entrusted with a new number by Jiao but has been abducted from her adoptive father Chang (Reggie Lee) by the Russians, who want that number. When she escapes, courtesy of some unintentional help by the corrupt NYC captain in charge of SWAT (John Lee Burke), she runs straight into Luke’s path…
 
Safe isn’t nearly absurd enough for the usual Statham thrills. It has a very complicated plot, which is only disclosed at a late stage; and really does try to emulate NYC crime thrillers of the 1970s rather than Luc Besson’s 2000s nonsense actions. This tension is never quite resolved. There is a nicely staged subway attack during which Statham delivers one of his greatest ever action one-liners in killing off a Russian mobster who’s aghast that a garbage-man should have such skills: “You had bad information; I never collected garbage, I disposed of it.” Similarly when Chris Sarandon mutters at Statham “You’ve got some balls” only to be met with “Yeah, I’m amazed I can walk,” we’re defiantly in Besson-land. Yet at the same time we have Hal Hartley regular John Lee Burke as the corrupt NYPD captain and some noticeably arty action sequences. There is an assault on a car composed as a long-take reminiscent of Cuaron’s Children of Men, and another subsequent attack involving great tricks with wing mirrors and rear view mirrors as the camera plays around with locating and hiding characters in the mayhem, as well as a showy long-take where Statham arrives.
 
Can Jason Statham break out of the action ghetto? Perhaps, but I think he’s more likely to do so by appearing in a film which is entirely devoid of chop-socky fights and devoted to showcasing his acting chops than by doing compromise pieces like Safe.

Any Other Business: Part III

Filed under: Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 5:16 pm
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What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a third portmanteau post on television of course!

Burning Down the House

Back in October I heralded the start of House season 8 on Sky One with a piece exploring what I perceived as a change in the dynamic of the show over time; focusing on how Olivia Wilde’s character Thirteen exemplified it. Now I precede the final ever episode of House on Sky One tonight with some ruminations on how the show is going to go out. Season 8 has featured some fine episodes, but overall has given an impression of terminal drift; as if the writers knew well before it was confirmed that they were coming to the end, and were simply shoehorning in all the pet high concepts they’d never found a way to organically weave into the storylines. House’s season finales have tended towards the devastating; from psychotic breaks, to firing entire staffs, to procedures so dangerous as to be suicidal; and it’s unlikely that Gregory House will personally end the show on an upbeat note. (In this respect the producers will probably respect the logic of the show more than 24’s staff wimping out on Howard Gordon’s broken promise to kill Jack Bauer in the final episode) But how do you end the series on a note that is both devastating and organically generated? My hope some weeks ago when I started writing ideas for this piece was that Olivia Wilde would be enticed back to the show for the final episodes. My October hope that Wilde would stay with the show and that it would run long enough for it to do something truly remarkable by gradually depicting a slow physical decline for the beloved Thirteen had of course been well and truly dashed. My big idea was that Thirteen would arrive back for a suitably crushing finale in which she would hold House to his promise in season 7 that when the time came when her Huntington’s had overwhelmed her that he would kill her. Sadly, while my prayers were answered and the prodigal daughter did return and reference that promise from House, a bolt from the blue devastating ending rather than a truly organically generated finale will play out tonight…

48

I’ve been getting steadily more annoyed with 02’s endless promotion for its MVNO spin-off 48. The ever-present TV ads, the endless promo voiceovers on Phantom FM, and the posters at every bus stop. The first question I asked myself on seeing the TV ad was ‘where are all these burlesque costumed orgies in massive warehouses taking place anyway?’ Apparently this is what 18 to 22 year olds do nowadays, regardless of the fact that the space available for these parties seems to exist somewhere between 1970s New York and the copywriter’s imagination. Next I asked myself whether the copywriter would have dared to flip the ‘oh so daring’ bisexual experimentation depicted on its head, a la Bret Easton Ellis. Probably not, and this titillating but hypocritical use of lesbianism where two men making eyes at each other wouldn’t have been countenanced annoyed me. But then I noticed the voiceover, which is straight from Dublin, Ohio. There’s something incredibly jarring in Irish names like Emer being dropped into the middle of the narrator’s monologue (ending in the ubiquitous slogan “Go conquer”) which is delivered in tones that wouldn’t sound out of place anywhere in the American Mid-West. What the hell?

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