So I thought I’d be watching some more Westerns for this round of reviews but I realized shortly after posting last time that I’ve hit my limit with the genre for a while. That said, I have a bunch of good ones lined up on the DVR for future viewing. Instead, I watched:
Revolutionary Road (2008)– A very sad meditation on the trappings of suburbia – and I loved it. And while Doubt was my pick for the overall best acting in a film last year (and, arguably, it was the best film of the year as well), this film would give that picture a good run for its money. The film is a masterpiece of morbidity and depression, and Mendes’ work here is arguably as good as it was in American Beauty (though he’s been on a very solid streak for the past decade). Winslet outshines DiCaprio, but both of them best their other infamous joint endeavor. Michael Shannon steals every scene he is in as well. And though I’ve never read the novel, it comes across as a great adaptation of brilliant writing.
Death Race (2008) – Another great adaptation of brilliant writing…ha! No – this was just pure ridiculousness through and through, but I enjoyed the spectacle of it nonetheless. This is, of course, a remake of Corman’s cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975) – now with "better" effects, a more typecast cast, and a more focused attention on carnage. I think because I enjoy video games so much, I have developed a soft spot for Paul W.S. Anderson’s films – and this one (for better or worse) fits his M.O. Mindless and fun, but check your critical sensibilities at the door.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) – Though I love all things Star Wars, I had avoided seeing this for some time as the concept of it had offended me for two reasons: 1) I really liked the 2003 animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky (of Samurai Jack fame) and was sad to see it discontinued in favor of this 2) This was touted explicitly as a kids movie which highlighted the parts of other Star Wars films that I’ve always found most exasperating (stupid droid comic relief, a focus on novelty characters, etc.). However, in following ComicCon news, I heard good things about the CN show that is now entering its second season and figured I’d give this “pilot” a shot. When I finally got around to watching it this week, I fell asleep no less than three times while trying to watch it. What good can I say about it? The CGI is top-notch, a few of the light saber fights were well choreographed, and it features bits of the classic score. Otherwise, my initial misgivings were confirmed. I am a SW fan though, so I’ll still check out the new cartoon series – I only hope it gets better than this tripe.
Bullitt (1968) – This film kept me guessing, which is a good thing – but the pacing made me care less about what was going to happen by the time the film got to its third act. McQueen is really the only notable standout, and without him this would be a very by-the-numbers “bad cop” kind of film. The real standout star? The city of San Francisco. It is shot beautifully and more than anything else – including the now iconic car chase – makes this movie worth recommending. In fact, I found the car chase to be overhyped. For better chases from the late 60s-70s, see The French Connection, Gone in 60 Seconds, or even the original Italian Job. This one may have been influential and first, but it is hard for me to consider it one of the best.
Dirty Harry (1971) – It is clear that this film owes a debt to Bullitt as here you have a rough-around-the-edges but just and honest homicide cop in San Francisco chasing bad guys and fighting the system. That said, what I found lacking in Bullitt was present here. This film’s pacing is dead on, and the last act actually caught me by surprise and made the film much better than it seemed it would be (I figured that the film was basically over once the major arrest was made about 3/4 of the way through). And while Eastwood does what he does best here, I actually found Andrew Robinson’s portrayal of the killer to be the most gripping – think the killer from Silence of the Lambs minus the creepy sex drive but with the charisma of some of Jack Nicholson’s iconic villains. Ok, the performance isn’t really that good, but it makes him seem like a formidable foe for a character like Harry who himself seems a little unstable. San Fran is more of a backdrop than the star here and the directing is merely competent - but the film succeeds on strong blend of action/acting/plot.
Magnum Force (1973) – The second Dirty Harry film suffers from some of the typical drawbacks of most sequels. The first film is built, in part, around the mystery of the title character. Here we know who he is and understand his motives, can predict his actions, etc. So, this film focuses more on action to keep the audience interested. It features an excellent car/bike chase (which could probably be grouped in with some of those above), some grisly murder scenes, and some nice gunplay throughout. The plot was more predictable, Eastwood less charismatic, and the supporting cast largely forgettable. That said, I felt that the directing was better – San Fran stands out more, the action scenes are better choreographed and shot, and there are several instances of scenes that are marked by excellent lighting. Not as good as the first, but a solid cop movie in its own right. That said, I hope they don’t go very far downhill from here…
Next Up: Probably some more Dirty Harry and/or Eastwood films, The Wrestler, and maybe some of last year’s action films that I skipped when they were in the theaters but have recently hit cable (Mummy 3, Wanted, etc.)