Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): A Quick One: Theater fodder

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Quick One: Theater fodder

As I indicated in my previous "quick one" I've seen few films in theaters over the past few months. What's more, the films I did see were not usually of the highest grade, in terms of being Oscar bait and the like...I tended to go out and spend when I was forced (i.e. with friends and family) hence I did not see the cream so much as the crop. But for all you completists out there, here are some quick rundowns on what I thought of what I saw.

Valkyrie - Entertaining enough, the way Hillary was likable enough. Brian Singer didn't goof up the inherently interesting (albeit not so inherently suspenseful) story, which has Tom Cruise attempting to kill Adolf Hitler and install L. Ron Hubbard as Chancellor of Germany. Tom Wilkerson gives the best performance as a slippery careerist trying to figure out which way the wind's blowing before aligning himself with any conspiracies. The film is a competent thriller, but I kept wondering what a Jean-Pierre Melville could have done with it.

Taken - A proudly straightforward thriller with one or two exceptional or unusual elements. Some of these are a consequence of its increasingly rare (and thus, increasingly refreshing), almost naive straightforwardness: the (perhaps unintentionally oddball) portrayal of notorious Ivy League Skull & Bones CIA agents as working-class schlubs, the un-ironic use of a career in bubblegum pop as desirable, the un-ironic use of U2 as the band which hip teenagers follow around Europe (hat tip to the local newspaper for pointing this out), the un-ironic use of the bratty girl from "Lost," as a rich kid who's good-hearted. But the film's trump card is its casting - Liam Neeson is perfect as the gentle giant of a father turned stone-cold professional. Not for he the teeth-gnashing of bereaved, vengeful parents most movies present: the moment his daughter is kidnapped, he turns totally pro, speaking calmly and forecefully as he takes control of the situation. It's a remarkable, well-played, subtle twist. Thus both major pitfalls of this sort of action movie - hip irony and sentimental sops to presumed audience desires - are generally avoided. However, there is one decision made by Neeson (or rather Luc Besson, the writer) which may go too far in the direction of unsentimental. Since the film had keyed me to expect a tough, admirably professional, but ultimately fair and just hero (he's dark but a good guy), I had some trouble accepting this particular decision. But it is memorable and in retrospect, perhaps the film's standout moment. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. We'll discuss in the comments section.

The Spirit - A friend of mine had a couple free movie passes, one of which he generously shared. Hence I saw this movie for free, and it was worth every penny. I did pay for the popcorn, however, and that was pretty good.

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