Monthly Archives: August 2012

My Buddy is a Cage – The Rock (1996)

When a rogue general (Ed Harris) holds Alcatraz hostage and demands the United States government atone for fallen soldiers, Cage’s Dr. Stanley Goodspeed pairs with an imprisoned MI6 Agent (Sean Connery) and a crack Navy SEAL team to diffuse the situation. Let’s not forget said situation depends on Harris’ threat to launch confiscated bio-missiles on the denizens of San Francisco.

Two things are apparent: the Bruckheimer/Bay fetishes — car porn, explosions a la carte, military chest-puffing, low angle pans, Hans Zimmer’s bombast — are all in The Rock. They’ve also never been better since. It’s easy to rip Revenge of the Fallen fans, but Michael Bay must be an intelligent man. You’d be hard pressed to glean this via auteur theory as Bay’s filmography lacks much complexity and nuance. But the man delivers, often to undeniable profits. 

The Rock could have so easily slipped into vapid spectacle. A gunfight here, a side boob there. So much of Transformers (a film I like) is mindless, but The Rock’s savvy scripting never shies away from a messy — and pointed — center. General Hummel is of course an ‘ends before means’ kinda dude, but he’s not the granite pillar of archvillainy one expects would devise such a ludicrous gambit. No, Harris’ forced attrition of American world policing and the costs that come with it is extreme, but despite Alcatraz’s refitted mousetrap of motion sensors and camouflaged minutemen, his driving philosophy never becomes a stale MacGuffin. For action fare, the writing here is sharp, with Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin allegedly uncredited contributors to the project. For crying out loud, the film pokes fun of how stupid “Goodspeed” is for a last name. And make no mistake, Goodspeed is a stupid last name, regardless if Connery’s well-read P.O.W. is willing to break down its etymology for us.

Despite his history lessons though, Connery’s John Mason is a hoot and a half, displaying all the exuberance of a tween on a GameStop shopping spree but with some serious skills under his belt. Mason gets even better, too if one pretends he’s a former recipient of code name ‘James Bond,’ and that this is just Jerry Bruckheimer’s lavish fan fiction finally realized on the big screen. I mean, casting Connery as a captive MI6 agent? Come on!

Following his Bad Boys debut one year prior, Bay again proves to be a remarkably competent action director. His compositions are layered and show an early knack for kinetic storytelling, despite the film’s purported 2.5 ASL or countless infractions of the 180 degree rule. Acquiescing to Nic Cage’s thoughts on his character is also a good sign, if only because Goodspeed’s Casey Kasem-styled exclamations and ‘gee willikers’ attitude might be more fun than an incoherent string of f-bombs.

And with that, he talked himself into liking Michael Bay.

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Your Superficial Fall Film Preview

(courtesy of The Off Duty Mime)

Part I
Part II
Part III

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Weekly Recap 8/19 – 8/25

8/19/12 Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Click the drunk, psychologically-damaged lovers!

8/20/12 The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

It’s piss poor how long it took me to finally see this, and what brand of praise hasn’t already been heaped on its send-up of horror tropes? What about its… commentary on politics and infrastructure? Marty’s paranoid stoner is the hyper-mindful eye of right-wing American Tea Partiers while Jenkins/Whitford are uniformed cogs of the Big Brother machine. But that means The Tea Party is backing Prop 215 and that big government mass slaughter is morally defensible. Lemme start over.

8/21/12 Goldfinger (1964) 

 

If From Russia With Love serves up countless touchstones in spy cinema, then Goldfinger is Guy Hamilton’s return to Dr. No’s pulpy shtick. It certainly hits the requisite checkmarks of Austin Powers fodder. Take its villain’s ingenious scheme to irradiate the U.S. gold supply. It would’ve been much more enthralling if one were to discover it as it played out. Instead, the brutish entrepreneur divulges every detail to Bond and then we see all that explication unfold with the help of bumble bee-styled Korean henchmen and Ms. Pussy Galore. Goldfinger himself is a caricature. By comparison, the once over-the-top glimpses of Russia’s Blofeld look subdued, so is it any wonder Fat Bastard spewed forth three decades later as Goldfinger’s lampooning progeny?

8/22/12 Unbreakable (2000)

 

As I can attest, Sam Jackson’s Mr. Glass nails the sad underpinnings of comic readers on the head — begrudging devotees to a weekly cycle of rehashed storylines and characters. Elijah Price is a slave to the medium, fettered with visions of its potential against the monotony of DC’s latest ‘New 52’ series. I’m hoping I wasn’t alone in getting suckered to buy all those terrible “Blackest Night” tie-ins. God, this really does look dreadful but Batman torching zombies with a flame thrower? Fuck it. I probably wasn’t spending that twelve dollars on anything important anyway.

“We’re on the same curve, just on opposite ends.”

To dub Shyamalan’s second feature another gritty superhero flick would be dismissing a far greater message. Unbreakable,especially with a decade-plus of hindsight, tells a unique ‘origin story’ while digging at the impulses of our widespread obsession with caped crusaders. Its ending is, after a third viewing, less an expected “twist” so much as a logical extension of two antithetical characters on the same wavelength. I’ve not seen The Sixth Sense in years, so one must forgive me if I rush to crown this Shyamalan’s signature work.

8/23/12 The Hunger Games (2012)

 

Without mentioning that ‘other film’ this has been exhaustively compared to, The Hunger Games is an enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment. No gun-to-my-head coercion is needed in choosing Suzanne Collins over Stephanie Meyer and her vampire baseball. That choice is reinforced by Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, and Jennifer Lawrence, all delivering solid performances. And yes, the premise of a gladiatorial competition le morte is interesting if still very disturbing even upon revisitation.

To pose an honest question, does anyone have an inkling of what Collins is saying here through such a vague, crude metaphor? A critique of professional sports? A take-down of reality television? Stanley Tucci’s blue-wigged Jacobin hairdo is fun to look at, but that the film never ventures even once to go beneath his Seacrest sycophancy is a problem. I refuse to believe after 74 years of tradition everyone in the authoritarian establishment finds this tournament morally sound. Maybe they do. If so, address that instead of giving me another thirty seconds of Donald Sutherland phoning it in. The Hunger Games could’ve been so much more if it weren’t trying so hard to do just that. From what I’ve heard, Collins’ original book is meatier, but its adaptation has an air of undeserved importance. Hopefully, Gary Ross’ departure allows some significance to come out, or I can’t see these next two three going well.

Does anyone else hear a cannon?

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

 

A single thought, that “man’s reach exceeds his grasp,” drives the ambition and intoxicating obsession in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and the phrase works, largely because its analogy rests on a simple physical assumption: arms do not grow. The eponymous chef in Jiro Dreams of Sushi defies that growth, at least mentally. He is a man, not striving for perfection so much as appreciative that striving in and of itself is a worthwhile venture.

Often shot in Red One’s crisp digital 4k, Jiro is visually filling if a bit lean in its substance. But judging from the chef’s crash-course philosophy we receive on tuna (and life), Jiro would likely be just fine with that. Until tomorrow.

Deja Vu (2006)

 

Tony Scott is not a director I can express great familiarity with. I recall crowding around the glow of Top Gun at an elementary school sleepover, but even then the synths and silhouettes of “Take My Breath Away” hardly seem justified for such a posthumous outpouring of admiration.

Of course, far be it from me to go with the flow in my reconciliation. Deja Vu holds its head high as a bold slice of action cinema that is too seldom attempted. While its central conceit — a government guinea pig project that distorts time, allowing one to re-experience what’s already happened — is hokey, Scott gives a mechanical, precise delivery on the title’s promise. Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson provide their own analysis on Deja Vu at Cinema Scope, and although their reading feels slightly unsupported, it’s a fascinating one that doubles as a primer on a revolutionary action director’s career. I think I’ve got more work to do.

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My Buddy is a Cage – Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

On my 22nd birthday last year, I got a little cocky with the vodka tonics and had to cut myself off from the bars at a cool 10:15. I also yacked all over my jeans, which I then tossed in the shower and left under the running water as I passed out on my bed. Oh how we laugh.
Life hasn’t been kind to Ben Sanderson (Cage), though he probably doesn’t realize that sad fact to its fullest extent on account of his crippling alcoholism. A failed screenwriter, Ben drops everything (burns it) and departs the City of Angels for Las Vegas, where he plans to indulge in a weeks-long suicidal binge financed by hocking his remaining assets. Somewhere in the midst of his sloshed joy rides through Sin City, Ben nearly bowls over Elisabeth Shue’s numbed hooker, Sera, with an ‘e,’ not an ‘h’ or an ‘a.’ Intrigued by his overflowing wallet and his refreshing hesitance towards intercourse, Sera takes Ben in and the pair begin an intimate, if a bit twisted, relationship. Of course, you can’t pair a psychologically-damaged streetwalker with a self-destructive alcoholic and expect this to end like a Julia Roberts movie.

Until Leaving Las Vegas’ final minutes, Ben is unaware of how just how deeply he’s fallen, yet he accepts what he is, maybe even relishes in it. Ben and Sera’s connection stems from that understanding, from accepting each other’s problems without taking fault. Passing no judgment. Their “twisted” relationship is also in many ways touching. Outside of a fictive space, ignoring a partner’s addiction or trauma seems like a fairly terrible thing. Here, director Mike Figgis elevates (sinks?) the ‘trust fall’ of a relationship. I’ll catch you, but I won’t stop either of us from falling.

As is probably obvious, mutual ignorance never lasts, and whether by one too many vodka showers or by diminished patience, we know where this is going from its hazy inception. But that fits with every relationship Sera and Ben have. Yes, Sera hardly models a legitimate career path, but even Ben’s sit-down with the big cheese plays out like a prescribed break-up scenario; I think we both knew this was coming. If there’s a corporate guide to letting go of the office lush, it’s probably laminated. Figgis shows us that a pair’s relationship can be really, really fucked up, but that isn’t so incomprehensible when their lives are really, really fucked up.

Even in my sad digital temple to Cage, I’d be remiss in ignoring that Elisabeth Shue anchors the crap out of this. Despite a life of violence and abuse, Shue sells it all with such simplicity, and that’s just as well because I’m not sure I could take bear to witness two zombified man-children. Cage goes from a coolly complacent time bomb to a drooling, infantalized, semi-mobile cadaver. Ben Sanderson is more ‘dead man coming’ than ‘dead man walking,’ at least before his violent shakes of withdrawal really set in. Early on though, he’s a pretty enrapturing sad sack:
I should be harsher on this film — or at least funnier– but Leaving Las Vegas is intoxicating in more ways than opening a window for a cliched pun. For one thing, the length of Ben’s binge is scattershot in its definition since so much of him is externalized. Car rides and their jigsawed timespans go down as quickly as their driver can glug his way through another handle of Beefeater, and apologies to Kenny G, but the elevator smooth jazz might have driven me to some mechnical pencil-inspired seppuku had it not been such a clever companion. At one point, Ben’s hums even directly match this banal muzack, because we’re hearing what he’s hearing, and if you dig what’s playing, you may have a problem.

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Weekly Recap 8/12 – 8/18

Blame the terseness of this week’s recap on move-out week being the worst of things. I realize no influential policymakers frequent this site, but I’ll say it anyway: For a city that relishes in the fact that it’s so damn progressive, Madison’s ‘homeless day’ is some seriously medieval bullshit.
8/16/12 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

I hadn’t watched this since it came out in theaters eight years ago. Maybe that explains why I forgot how great it is. Greengrass’ shaky cam isn’t nearly as nauseating as its parodies have conditioned me to believe, and Damon’s a total BAMF, but the best part? That “Extreme Ways” exclamation point at the end. ‘Get some rest, Pam. You look tired.’ *CUE MOBY*

I’ll be milking this for the foreseeable future, though I can see it going horribly wrong with my office’s Executive Director:

-Hello, John.

-Who said that? Wh- what the hell are you doing behind my plants?

-No, don’t turn around. Pretend like you don’t see me.

-Give me my binoculars back. And what do you want?

-Get some rest, John. You look tired. *CUE iPHONE MOBY*

-You’re fired.

Would still be worth it.

8/18/12 Lost Highway (1997)

To say a Lynch film is like a dream is akin to claiming a car accident is ‘kind of like life in a way.’ As impenetrable as his films tend to be, that strikes me as a pretty cheap cop out and missing the point of what he’s trying to say. I’m sure there is a point here somewhere.

Lynch uses classical elements in non-traditional ways and it’s pretty awesome: fades, dissolves, theatrical staging, out of body experiences, hallucinatory spats of lustful murder. Mulholland Dr. was enigmatic during my first time, so it’s no surprise Lost Highway goes the same route on an initial viewing. Probably on a second one, too. And maybe a third.

8/18/12 ParaNorman (2012)

I might swear off anything that vaguely resembles Tim Burton altogether. Sorry, Neil Gaiman, but you’re unfortunate collateral. ParaNorman, the adolescent chronicle of a zombie-obsessed social outcast who’s actually cool with seeing dead people, has an awesome premise that it ignores after its first twenty minutes.Laika’s animation style still looks fantastic. In particular, there’s some gorgeous witchery-induced clouds in the climax that resemble dyed pantyhose swirling in pools of water. I’m really struggling for praise here because I expected more from the same studio that made Coraline. Then again, that’s a film whose third act bored the heck out of me. ParaNorman‘s got that going on, too. Just with like, all three acts.

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Weekly Recap 8/5 – 8/11

A new, weekly (duh) addition to the site where I force myself to write down thoughts on my viewing habits from the past seven days. Let the great experiment begin!

8/6/12 La Haine

Fraught with tension, a fantastic Vincent Cassel performance and gorgeous black and white photography, think of La Haine as an improved version of Do The Right Thing. The film presents an objective look at the malaise of mid-90s France, but also the intricate divisions that separate us as people. Its final message, while not profound, feels organic to the story. It also helps that director Mathieu Kassovitz can distance himself from his films, a feat Spike Lee so rarely does. This steers through uneven terrain on an even keel, successfully balancing shock and humor in an experience that’s not unlike holding a number two down a mile-long hallway. With La Haine, no clenching is required.

8/8/12 Gone in Sixty Seconds

Of course “My Buddy is a Cage” selections are included here. And of course you can’t make me write about it twice.

8/8/12 Dr. No

A few summers ago at my grandparents’ house, I came across an old shoebox filled with Polaroids and marveled at how preserved they were. Also, old people loved tight short-sleeve polos in 1956 apparently. Revisiting Dr. No felt a lot like opening up that old shoe box. As dull and stupid as the titular villain makes for both a mystery and a nemesis, it takes a great deal more to thwart Connery’s charisma and charm. Its many flaws aside, Terence Young’s first Bond entry remains a classy film, and that’s coming from someone who tends to undervalue older cinema.

Regrettably very familiar with Austin Powers humor, I was surprised that Dr. No sets up so many iconic qualities the Mike Myers series would go on to lampoon. Mongoloid henchmen. Connery’s puns and horn dog attitude. Or maybe Dr. No simply showed how little Dalton and Brosnan really contributed to the franchise. I said it, Pierce. Stick to run-by fruitings.

8/9/12 Hard Boiled
 

You know what? I’m glad I watched Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Maybe it’s purely by comparison but Jolie and her stupid cocaine dread locks make John Woo’s Hong Kong action film look like a masterpiece. I suspect had I not seen Gone, Hard Boiled would still look pretty damn great. It may sound counterintuitive for this genre, but the sound design in Woo’s films always seems top notch. Action set pieces constantly one-up themselves, but the gun cocks, the shells pinging against pavement give the sequences their meat. Even the punch sound effects stand apart from the overused stock from Power Rangers episodes. You’ll have to maybe just trust me on that comparison. 

8/11/12 From Russia With Love
 

If I had a time machine, after I became a millionaire betting on the ’86 World Series, I’d slap the shit out of my thirteen year-old self that fell asleep watching From Russia With Love

Bond generally creates an expectation for new gadgets and hot babes, however those elements often drown out the potential intricacy and paranoia that a spy thriller can have. An invisible car is memorable because it’s a pretty fucking stupid idea. Here, Q’s suitcase — with its gold sovereigns, spring-loaded throwing knife, and booby traps — gets it right, as does the entirety of this film. One of the best Bond entries from the best Bond. Keep it simple, sweetheart.

NOTE: Now Playing Podcast’s latest retrospective is in fact on none other than Agent 007, and they’re doing two a week. I like to keep pace, so with multiple Bond films and the obligatory Nic Cage entry, my viewing habits have become increasingly dictated. What I mean to say is this recap might be a bumpy ride when they get to Roger Moore and I can’t put off Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance any longer. Yeesh.

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My Buddy is a Cage – Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Matchstick Men was my virginal entry into the Cage brand of heist films, and thank heavens I enjoyed it because what follows is an attempt to dissect banality in its rankest form.

When police stumble upon Christopher Eccleston’s operation to jack fifty cars in three days, well-meaning fuck-up Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) takes the fall, and his ex-con brother Memphis (Cage) has to pick up the slack, lest he risk his kid bro dying in some elaborate junkyard accident. With even less time and even more pressure, Memphis must corral his old posse together for one last heist, all the while evading the dopiest pair of cops (Delroy Lindo, Timothy Olyphant) this side of a Marvel sequel.

Underwhelming isn’t the right word, and yet boring doesn’t do justice to how contrived Gone in Sixty Seconds is. An action film with cars and one-liners was all I came in expecting, and director Dominic Sena fails to even deliver on those easily attainable checkpoints. The post-viewing ritualistic tango me and my VLC player have for each screen capture session quickly confirmed that. Gone is a film about stealing cars, but you couldn’t find a noteworthy shot to steal from it. It’s as if someone set out to make a genre piece, and then undercut the essential elements.

What Gone excels at is telling the viewer how to feel, mainly through what Classicists refer to as ‘script bludgeoning’. Take Memphis’ rag-tag squad of saps and burnouts, where the story devolves from an actual narrative into one of those audio headsets they hand out on cheap tours: This one’s the tech guy. This one’s the hacker guy. This one’s the strong silent guy. This guy’s really a tomboy who shares a forlorn love story with Nic Cage that we won’t try to hamfist into the story for another forty-five minutes. If your high school TV production class remade Ocean’s Eleven, it would rival the modicum of screen presence these mouthbreathing dipshits collectively muster up. Their sole purpose is as a Chino-bred Greek chorus: That ride is so sick! Jolie is so fine! I don’t understand what any of you jagweeds are saying. Everyone is so impressed and astonished with each other, and precisely none of that admiration is earned. It’s as if the screenwriters showed so little confidence in their characters that they anticipated viewers’ similar reactions and crammed in emotional street signs to make sure we were watching this turd the right way.

Oh, and Angelina Jolie as “Sway.” THE FUCK. From the oh-so-forced bad girl motorcycle to the oh-so-forced blonde dreads, Jolie is utter dreck. Only a twad pocket with a name like ‘Memphis Raines’ could have a thing for this woman. What is attractive about this character? More importantly, is it possible to be so laid back you topple over? The burnout look works for a select group of new age femme fatales, but “Sway” is no Marla Singer. The nappy hairstyle and oversized trench coat reek of an incoherent heroin addict who drinks water (?) out of gasoline jugs.

The stupidest.

With its endless buildup to a mega heist that is neither interesting or satisfying, Gone in Sixty Seconds is blue balls on cinema. Early on, Scott Caan’s stupid character, whose stupid nickname I can’t even remember, utters some pointless throwaway anecdote about his latest sex act, “The Stranger,” where he sits on his hand until it numbs and then proceeds to nurk his throbber to climax. Someone’s jerking me off here, and I’m not sure who.

As if to hammer its short-changing home, Gone doesn’t even dispense with the Cage as I’ve now come to expect, or in this case, desperately crave. Early on, he hams it up in a dealership, sniffing out the whereabouts of a ’67 Shelby Mustang GT, the heist’s crown jewel, but excising the general blah of Memphis as a character, it’s minor. I guess if the prospect of Cage pleading into a steering wheel sounds appetizing, bottom’s up:

A suspension of disbelief is endemic to a large majority of narrative films. Gone in Sixty Seconds is a suspension of disinterest, and it does not succeed. I don’t care about ‘Memphis Raines,’ his terrible pornstar moniker or his sloppily etched backstory. He’s got a backstory with that ’67 Ford MacGuffin. He’s got a backstory with the local fuzz. He’s got a backstory with a blonde-haired sewer rat. Everything in this is abbreviated and frustrating, melting together in a paradoxically lethargic 118 minutes. I care so very little.

A small rush of relief washed over me when Master P popped up onscreen, a sentence never before committed to the internet.

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