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July movie roundup

Surprising myself, I had a stretch of watching a movie roughly every other day in the first half of July.

I am not too keen on watching movies piecemeal, and my usual daily itinerary rarely leaves a two-hour block to watch one of our DVDs or one of the recordings accumulating on my PVR. Late at night, when the kids retire to their bedrooms, Natasha and I are more likely to watch a recorded episode of one of our favorite US TV dramas than a movie. We, maybe, get to watch 4-5 movies a month. But in early July, Natasha was occupied with our visiting dignitaries and worked through the photos that we kept shooting, so I regularly found myself left to my own devices after 10pm or so. Since my PVR archive contains mostly movies that I doubt Natasha has any interest in watching, I started to work through it a little.

I revisited old favorites such as Midnight Run and one of the few comparatively recent movies that I had actually managed to watch in a theater before, The Bourne Ultimatum (which I like the best of the trilogy). I also watched several titles for the very first time. The following are brief impressions.

Lucky Number Slevin is a superbly done mob revenge story, full of suspense and twists. Despite the fact that majority of characters end up dead as the plot progresses, the narration and the dialogues are carried with enough levity to keep the movie from getting gruesome. The cast features a slew of actors who can always be counted on to give a good performance, from Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley to Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu. And Bruce Willis’s smirking attitude is always a treat.

I heard Risky Business declared a “classic” many times, and I can’t figure why. It’s great to see young Tom Cruise on screen, but aside from a few signature moments, he looked to me just as stiff emotionally as he comes across in his recent blockbusters. Not scared enough, not vulnerable enough, not exuberant enough, not cocky enough – in other words, not believable enough as a 17-year-old in deep shit. And Rebecca DeMornay appeared neither seductive enough nor even remotely warm to fall for. The plot, about how a little stupid deed can spin out of control and cause all sorts of trouble, is engaging enough, but the “happy-end” resolution requires a tremendous suspense of disbelief, and the way our hero Joel comes out ahead in the end very cheaply validates the notion that “WTF!” behavior can lead to greater rewards than being “a good boy”. I can’t really deal with that implication.

I like Steve Carell and his understated physical comedy (as compared to, say, the wa-a-a-y overstated approach of Jim Carrey), but Evan Almighty was neither funny, nor uplifting. The atheist in me appreciates the portrayal of God as a prick who uses his supposed omnipotence to wreck one guy’s life so that the poor schmuck can save his neighbors, as opposed to actually using said omnipotence to save the people without all the extra fuss. Carell’s character’s family sticking with him through most of the craziness and the closing message about acts of random kindness are two redeeming things about the whole movie, but it’s a stretch to say that the proceedings had anything to do with random kindness whatsoever.

Another silly comedy that I watched, Borat, is not really worth commenting on. Rampant “political incorrectness” was mildly amusing, but I am not a fan of crass and gross humour. Let’s leave it at that.

Finally, 3:10 to Yuma. I liked it a lot, primarily on the strength of acting by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. While I guessed how the movie would end good fifteen minutes before the finale, it still did not look entirely supported to me that a grizzled desperado – who, I admit, develops to be a man with heart as the movie unfolds – would risk his life for the benefit of his adversary, and then eventually would turn on his own crew. Especially since the very last frame suggested that he is going to successfully return to his unlawful ways. But upon reflection, I think that no other conclusion would fit the story. Westerns are rare these days, but this one is excellent.

I’ve spent the last half a dozen nights on my own catching up with the last batch of long-recorded episodes of The Sopranos. Now that I am done with that, I have a feeling that I may be able to work through my PVR movie queue a bit. Not tonight, though; plenty of sports on TV in the afternoon.

Posted in Movies

5 Comments

  1. jason

    Ilya, just a few thoughts on Risky Business, since I believe I may be one of those you’ve heard call this one “classic”:

    In all honesty, I haven’t actually seen this film in many years, so my affection for it is based on admittedly fallible memory, and I can’t speak with any authority on how well or poorly it may have aged since 1983.

    That said, I think the film’s reputation stems mainly from the context of when it was originally released. Movies about teens having (or attempting to have) sex were a flourishing genre in the early ’80s, but most of them were determinedly lowbrow comedies. Risky Business was the first to attempt to treat the subject with any sort of intelligence or drama, rather than playing it strictly for laughs. I would suggest that that if RB perhaps no longer seems terribly sophisticated, it’s more because of how much things have changed since it was made than any flaws in the movie itself.

    Also, this is the movie that made Tom Cruise a star, and even though his star has faded somewhat in recent years because of his personal behavior, there is no denying he was a significant force in Hollywood for a good 20 years, so RB has to take some credit for that. (For the record, I tend to think Cruise was quite effective and natural in his early roles, less so more recently. So much for Scientology assisting someone’s inherent talents!)

    As for Rebecca DeMornay, I’ll just say that sexy is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve always had a soft spot for her…

    Finally, the WTF theme and the cheaply earned happy ending… well, again I haven’t seen the movie in a long while so I can’t say if I’d still buy it, but I did back in the ’80s. I’d guess that was simply another matter of context, because there were a lot of films at the time that did more or less the same thing. Ferris Bueller, for example…

    One more thing: I’m increasingly of the mind that “classic” — a term that’s lost much of its meaning thanks to it being co-opted by marketing departments that wanted to make mediocre movies appear to be of higher quality than they are — is largely a subjective thing. Whether or not people find a particular movie to be deserving of the title seems to depend on one’s background, expectations, and even to a large extent, age. I saw RB in my early teens and it made a big impact on me, so I’m still inclined to defend its “classic” status. Conversely, I only recently saw another, similar film that many of my friends call “classic,” Porky’s, and I found it insultingly stupid to my 38-year-old eyes. Context would seem to be everything in these matters…

  2. Ilya

    Your points are well taken, Jason. I admit, I often judge the movie without taking its pioneering/breakthrough impact into account. And I might have liked it more had I watched it as an American teen, rather than an assimilated thirty-something…

  3. jason

    You know, Ilya, now that I re-consider it in the light of morning, there is a good argument to be made for how you view these older movies, i.e., purely on their own terms without nostalgia or cultural baggage. As I said, I haven’t seen RB in a long time — maybe it really isn’t that good and you’re more able to see that, just as I viewed Porky’s without any context or memories and thought it was idiotic.

    I don’t know — so much of this really is subjective, and I know that I tend to let nostalgia color my view of a great many things…

  4. Ilya

    Just don’t let that thought color your future remarks, please 🙂 I enjoy your perspective on the movies too much, Jason.

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